Teacher Union Executives Get Double-Digit Raises While Liabilities Skyrocket

Top MEA officers, unlike teachers, get 18.6 percent average pay bump in three years

While the teachers they represent have seen very small pay increases or even pay freezes over the past three years, high level executives at the Michigan Education Association union received large raises.

The average increase in the salaries paid to the top four union officials was 18.6 percent over three years. At the same time, the MEA's liabilities increased by nearly $100 million, or 50 percent in one year.

Vice President Nancy Strachan received a 25 percent salary increase between 2012 and 2015 ($119,520 to $149,433). Secretary-Treasurer Rick Trainor was also up 25 percent during the period ($121,476 to $151,675). President Steve Cook’s salary increased 16 percent ($182,154 to $211,390) and Executive Director Gretchen Dziadosz had a 13 percent increase from 2012 to 2015 ($190,196 to $215,222).

The salaries and liabilities are mandated to be reported by the union annually in its federal LM-2 form. The 2015 form recently became available. 

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Teachers are not getting anywhere near those kinds of raises. For example, a teacher in Plymouth-Canton Community Schools saw her salary increase by 5 percent over a three-year period from $57,448 to $60,346 during 2012 to 2015, according to a Freedom of Information Act.

A Michigan Capitol Confidential survey of the largest Michigan school districts found 13 of the 17 gave some type of pay raise to their teachers in 2014-15. Just one of the 17 districts cut pay, imposing a 1-percent reduction.

The raises come at a time when the MEA’s financial liabilities are skyrocketing, largely due to the cost of retirement benefits granted to its own employees. Union liabilities increased from $206.2 million in 2014 to $304.1 million in 2015.

The salaries the MEA reports to the U.S. Department of Labor vary significantly from year to year. The union says that in some years, there is a delay in the payments it receives from school districts, so some money earned in one year may not be reported until the next.

For example, Trainor’s salary for the four years has been reported as $121,476 (2012), $109,911 (2013), $158,296 (2014), and $151,675 (2015). While the yearly fluctuations can lead to pay cuts and pay raises, the trend has been one of significant increases for the top executives.

Steve Cook's salary has increased since he became president but is still about $24,000 short of what his predecessor made in 2011. Former MEA President Iris Salters made $235,447 in her final full year as president. Cook’s salary as vice president was $206,106 in 2010 and that was cut to $196,594 in 2011. Cook had his salary reduced to $182,154 in 2012 in his first full year as president and then it has increased three consecutive years.

Jim Perialas, president of Roscommon Teachers Association, said the teachers he has talked to around his part of the state are not getting much of a raise, if any at all.

“It’s the same thing I’ve always felt over the last 20 years: They are out of touch,” Perialas said about the MEA executives. “They are extremely out of touch with what is going on with the rank-and-file in the union. Nobody in the rank-and-file will call them out on it. It’s a money grab.” The Roscommon teachers union left the MEA in 2012 and now operates as an independent union.

The MEA didn’t respond to emails about their salary increases.


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