Throughout Michigan there is growing interest in amending the
state constitution to allow workers to affiliate voluntarily — rather than out
of compulsion — with a labor union. The largest school employees union in
Michigan, the Michigan Education Association, actively opposes letting current
and potential school employees choose whether to pay dues or fees to the labor
organization. Union officials’ hostility toward this idea may be motivated by a
fear that school employees would be less interested in MEA membership if they
knew more about what their union affiliation was getting them. Based on a recent
MEA report, the affiliation may be getting less for members this year than last.
The MEA, like many unions, must file an annual "LM-2" report
with the U.S. Department of Labor, a requirement intended to keep the union
accountable to its members. Some form of accountability is critical since the
law requires union membership as a condition of employment in most Michigan
Those members now total about 157,000 school employees, students
and retirees, according to the LM-2 filed by the MEA on Nov. 30, 2007. This is
down from about 164,000 in 2005, a decline of about 5 percent.
Given falling membership, one might expect the total amount of
dues and fees collected from MEA members to decrease as well. Surprisingly,
total revenue from dues has climbed from $63.3 million in 2006 to $66.7 million
in 2007, an increase of 5 percent. This increase follows a slight dues decrease
of about $1 million from 2005 to 2006.
At the same time, the union’s operation appears to be getting
more expensive. Disbursements to union employees totaled $27 million in 2005;
today they total $32 million. MEA officers and employees earn "good salaries,"
former MEA Communications Director Margaret Trimer-Hartley told Michigan
Education Report in 2006. Indeed, and they’re getting better.
Benefiting from salary increases over the previous year, MEA
President Iris Salters in 2007 received a base salary of $198,945, while
executive director and former union president Luigi Battaglieri’s salary came in
at $195,270. These salaries are in addition to any remuneration for sitting on
the boards of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, for which Salters was paid
$30,152 in 2005, and of Delta Dental Plan of Michigan, which paid Battaglieri
more than $18,000. (Both Salters and Battaglieri report their participation on
these boards in forms filed with the U.S. government to disclose actual or
potential conflicts of interest.)
Moreover, average teachers’ salaries — admittedly among the
highest of any state — are dwarfed by those of many union officials and
bargainers. Consider the Brighton Area Schools, for instance, where heated
negotiations are ongoing. Based on the latest data available from the state and
the 2007 LM-2, the MEA Uniserv director’s salary is $102,271, while the average
teacher salary in Brighton in 2006 was $59,061, above the state average of
$54,739, but more than $40,000 below the Uniserv director’s salary. Similar gaps
can be found statewide.
Under free-market conditions, the MEA union employees would
merit congratulations for providing services for which their members are willing
to pay. Unfortunately, this is not the case since members who want to continue
school employment have no choice but to pay the dues and fees that fund such
Given this generous compensation, MEA members might wonder
whether they’re getting what they’re paying for, which presumably is effective
representation in contract negotiations. They may be disheartened to learn that
the percentage of hours that MEA employees spent on "representational
activities" decreased 4 percent from 2006 to 2007. On average, union employees
spent 41 percent of their time representing members, according to their own
This means that each MEA member is shouldering more of the
burden for the union’s operation. In 2005, the average dues and fees per member
or fee payer was $390. Today, it is more than $420. The per-capita payment
increase coincides with a self-reported decrease in time spent on the union’s
primary purpose, member representation.
If MEA members are unsatisfied with this picture, they may want
to question their union officials’ truculent opposition to allowing them to
choose MEA representation. If the benefits of affiliating with a union are as
clear as some say they are, why is the MEA afraid to let professionals decide
for themselves — based on the MEA’s own reports about union spending and
activities — whether the benefit of membership is worth the price?
Dr. Ryan S. Olson is director of education policy for 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.