The Unseen Importance of MESSA to the MEA

The importance of MESSA to the MEA extends far beyond the unique insurance benefits provided t I o MEA members by MESSA. More importantly, MESSA is an effective program for controlling the loyalty and support of the union's members, thereby giving the MEA the membership strength and financial resources required to successfully advance its agenda throughout the State of Michigan. That agenda contains several controversial goals for labor, education, and other political issues.17

The program is so effective, in fact, that a recent survey of MEA members revealed that they value MESSA health benefit packages over all other services administered by the MEA.18 Considering that MESSA's health plans cover almost any medical expense in full or close to full, this comes as no surprise.19 MESSA benefits are also tax-exempt because they are part of an employee compensation package. Moreover, everyone who is enrolled in a MESSA plan can rest assured that their insurance administrator is on their side; MESSA admits that it is biased toward school employees from the outset. In the 1981 Houghton Lake case, for example, MESSA testified that it will interpret benefit contracts in favor of public school employees, even if the result is higher costs to school districts.20

The MEA tells its members that without MESSA, they could not obtain comparable health insurance unless they were willing to give up liberal benefits and user-friendly service. For example, a promotional flyer distributed by the MEA informs MEA members that:21

  • "Equivalent coverage plans can't provide [MESSA advantages], so these plans can't be equivalent!"

  • "You do not have to deal with insurance carriers who don't understand your unique needs as an MEA member."

  • "MESSA was designed to service MEA members."

  • "Your health insurance is an important part of your compensation package. It should not be under the control of anyone but you and your organization: the MEA."

MEA members realize the value of MESSA, and they will defend a generous benefit. Members also realize that without the MEA, they could not have access to MESSA, so they will defend the MEA. In this sense, MESSA fosters support for the teachers' union.

The MEA's chief lobbyist, Al Short, conceded the point when he recently stated: "You take members that don't believe in collective bargaining, that don't believe in our political ends, but you talk to them about MESSA, they'll stand in the middle of a highway to defend it. That's the tie."22 In light of MESSA, many MEA members seem to forget their differences with the union. Once the MEA has the cooperation of its members, it can go ahead with its agenda and support political causes that many of its members find offensive. Other results from the afore mentioned survey of MEA members exemplify the discontent:

  • 86 percent of leaders in the union are bothered that "the MEA takes stands I do not agree with."

  • 69 percent of teachers are bothered that "the MEA takes stands I do not agree with."

  • 55 percent of teachers are bothered that "the MEA is too liberal."

  • 64 percent of teachers are bothered that "the MEA is mainly committed to union goals, not professional goals for education."

  • 75 percent of teachers are bothered that "the MEA gets involved in issues, like abortion, that have nothing to do with education."

Not only does the MEA acquire the support of its membership through MESSA's programs, it can also induce significant financial support from its membership through MESSA. As long as the MEA can guarantee that its members are loyal to the union, it can also guarantee that members will pay their dues without objection or reservation. Since dues are the MEA's primary source of income, providing the union with around $30 million in 1992, it is crucial that the MEA ensure its financial viability through effective programs such as MESSA.23