MESSA an issue in contract talks

DETROIT - Health insurance is a key issue in stalled teacher contract negotiations in dozens of Michigan school districts, with arguments over union-affiliated insurance generating talk of teacher strikes, according to the Detroit Free Press.

At issue is the Michigan Education Special Services Association, a Michigan Education Association affiliate that sells insurance packages to a majority of Michigan public school districts, according to the Free Press. Under a new state law, MESSA is required to release claims histories to individual school districts, which can use that data to solicit bids from different providers in an effort to reduce costs, the Free Press reported.

But many teachers want to retain MESSA coverage, with union leaders calling it competitively priced and one of the few perks of teaching, according to the Free Press. School administrators counter that comparable plans are available at less cost, the Free Press reported. The dispute was one reason for a four-day teacher walkout in Wayne-Westland this fall, according to the article, which also quoted a Grand Rapids Public Schools spokesman as saying "strike talk is alive and kicking" there.

The Free Press reviewed the financial and personnel ties between MESSA and the MEA, noting that millions of dollars flow between the two each year. Critics say that MESSA has unique access to promote its insurance plans to teachers, while MESSA officials said it is not uncommon for affiliated groups to share some costs and to sit on each other's boards.

The Detroit Free Press, "Threat of change worries teachers in fight for insurance," Dec. 21, 2008

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "How MESSA and the MEA work," Feb. 2, 2008