(Note: This item originally appeared at the Web site of Students for a Free Economy, an outreach project of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The Center also publishes Michigan Education Report.)
In a recent Mackinac Center Current Comment, Us vs. Them: The People and the Political Class, I argued that true representative government has been supplanted by a self-serving, self-perpetuating political/government class and that as a result, the government has escaped the control of the people.
Alarmist? Extreme? Consider this news item: The Michigan Education Association teachers union is involved in a recall campaign against two members of the Wayne-Westland school board following an illegal MEA-inspired strike against the district in October. Among other things, the union held a recall training session at its local headquarters.
The October strike was at root over whether MESSA, the MEA's money machine, would get the district's health insurance loot, or whether school employees would obtain essentially the same coverage from an actual insurer at lesser cost. The Michigan Education Special Services Association is a third-party administrator that outsources insurance underwriting to Blue Cross Blue Shield, then resells the policies to schools.
Making MESSA a bargaining issue is itself prohibited by state law, but set that aside. The deeper meaning of this recall is that a group of secure and well-compensated public employees and their union is using resources that at root are provided by taxpayers to fire the district's managers, who were selected by voters to be the stewards of their school and tax money.
This is not just a cynical manipulation of the political system, it's a perversion of the very concept of democracy. If the union's recall is successful and becomes a common tactic, then we are not just approaching the tipping point where the government class amasses such power and resources that efforts to dislodge them become futile — we will have passed it.
Here's an analogy. Imagine that some residents of Wayne-Westland pooled their money and started a restaurant. They hired a manager, who hired cooks and waiters. Over time the waiters became surly, the food mediocre and the costs excessive. The manager cracked down, and in response the employees fired him.
Whoops — employees don't hire and fire managers. That's the owners' prerogative. Apparently not when it comes to the management of an even more important institution, our school system. Not anymore, that is, if the MEA is successful.
Given the union's deep pockets and rippling political muscles, the recall may well succeed. On Nov. 4 four members of the Reed City school board were recalled after angering the union by voting to privatize food and custodial services. That outsourcing will save the district taxpayers some $300,000 a year, or about $200 per student, as reported by the Education Action Group. (Incidentally, privatization decisions are another prohibited bargaining area, but the House has passed a bill to repeal that.)
Of course, the union will argue that the final recall decision is in voters' hands, so there is no corruption of the democratic process. Sure — the same way a 95-pound weakling going into the ring against the heavyweight boxing champion is a fair fight. Most school board members are political amateurs with little campaign savvy or ability to raise money — their adversary here is exactly the opposite.
Motivated and empowered by its concentrated benefits, the MEA already has outsized advantages over the dispersed interests of taxpayers in regular school board elections. These recalls are showing the whip to school board members who have been mugged by the fiscal realities of the job, reminding them to always place the interests of unions ahead of the interests of taxpayers.
Jack McHugh is senior legislative analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.