MESSA and the MEA in Action

The final step of the analysis of MESSA's relationship with the MEA is to consider how these corporations actually interact. In combining their commercial affiliation with the MEA's control, the business activities of both MESSA and the MEA are deeply enmeshed. According to one annual report of the MEA with a separate section on MESSA:

Since September 9, 1960, the date on which the Michigan Education Special Services Association was chartered as a Michigan non-profit corporation, we at MESSA have maintained a very close affiliation with the MEA through the latter's sponsorship of MESSA programs.94

The bulk of these interactions concentrate on an exchange of labor resources and a cooperative marketing strategy for promoting MESSA insurance to MEA members.

Given the presence of MESSA employees on the MEA's bargaining teams during contract negotiations and private caucus meetings, there is an obvious exchange of labor resources taking place between MESSA and the MEA. The same MESSA employees who participate on bargaining teams also use the MEA's offices, regional facilities, equipment, and secretarial personnel.95 Furthermore, MEA employees have been known to act as operatives for MESSA. As noted in a report compiled by the law firm of Mosher, Vondale, Gierak & Baumhart:

The fact that MESSA pays the MEA millions of dollars for services is documented. What such documents do not show are the large numbers of employees who are paid by both MESSA and the MEA, even though they spend the vast majority of their time doing strictly MEA work. Even full-time MESSA employees do a significant amount of work on behalf of the MEA.96

This employee interchange could be anticipated, considering that the majority of employees in the "MEA Family" are represented by the same union (United Staff Organization), form homogeneous collective bargaining units and, are covered by the same collective bargaining agreement.

The prime motive for this exchange of labor resources is to facilitate the marketing of MESSA insurance plans. In 1981, MESSA and the MEA took advantage of their relationship and developed a cooperative marketing strategy for promoting MESSA insurance. Since MESSA's programs are restricted to public school employees with some connection to the MEA, the most sensible approach to marketing MESSA's products is for MESSA to take advantage of the MEA's influence among its membership. The MEA already has the means to communicate with its members, so rather than have MESSA cultivate its own similar lines of communication, the MEA has assumed the responsibility for promoting MESSA to its membership.

In short, the MEA "markets" MESSA by puffing its programs to MEA local affiliates and encouraging the units to incorporate MESSA into their collective bargaining agreements. The MEA dispatches its Uniserv division of professional contract negotiators into school districts at the time of contract negotiations. Using conventional sales tactics, the Uniserv negotiators sing the praises of MESSA and encourage the MEA local affiliates to demand MESSA from their districts, resorting to strike threats as necessary. The objective is to rally the local teachers' union around MESSA and force the district to acquiesce to this demand. If the union and the school district agree to a MESSA insurance plan, the Uniserv negotiators use a booklet of "prototype contract language" to incorporate MESSA into the contract.

The MEA will not admit that it wants to force every school district to purchase MESSA coverage. However, in 1989, the MEA delineated a five year plan to "negotiate MESSA as the exclusive health care benefit plan in all collective bargaining agreements" beginning in the 1991-92 school year.97 The attorneys for MESSA reminded their critics, "Although it is the official MEA policy to try to bargain MESSA benefits for the MEA members, many MEA bargaining units do not have MESSA plans written into their collective bargaining agreements."98 Nonetheless, they concede that the MEA does have an official policy mandating that the Uniserv division attempt to negotiate MESSA coverage whenever possible.

Related to the MEA's efforts at marketing MESSA programs is the MEA's efforts at promoting the quality of MESSA coverage to those who already have it. This type of member retention program has been developed to ensure that the MEA members who have MESSA coverage appreciate the program and understand that the MEA makes the benefits possible. The interest of the MEA is obvious: effective inter-union marketing will foster confidence in MESSA, which assures the MEA that members will remain loyal to MESSA and the union. The essence of these promotional devices is captured in the advertisements and publications which the MEA produces for member consumption. For example, a promotional flyer distributed by the MEA in 1989 persuades teachers: "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."99

The leadership of the MEA habitually promotes the virtues of MESSA insurance to members of the union. By every indication from the amount of persuasion involved, it would be quite difficult to convince teachers that other insurance plans deserve any attention. Even if school districts could find similar coverage at a more affordable cost, the odds of persuading the teachers to abandon MESSA are against them.