Union spokesman: 'Everything is about money'
Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook has insulted union members who exercise their rights by opting out of the union by calling them "freeloaders."
But has the MEA been the freeloader by overcharging those who have opted out with inflated agency fees that cover more than just the cost of contract negotiations?
Before right-to-work was signed into law in December 2012, members of the MEA who opted out had only one choice — they could resign from the union but they still were represented by the union in contract negotiations and had to pay an agency fee. That fee, Cook said on the union's website, "covers only the costs of negotiating and maintaining the contract."
The MEA calculates the cost to negotiate contracts and then charges those who opt out an agency fee. Based on interviews with teachers, media reports and information from MEA documents, the union's agency fees are estimated between 70 percent to 90 percent of full membership dues.
Agency fees can vary, but are about $500 a year, according to interviews with MEA members. MEA dues ranges from $700 a year to more than $900 a year after national dues and other fees are added in.
However, the MEA's own records show it spends far less on contract negotiations than what it charges fee payers.
According to MEA documents, the union spent $800.1 million in the last six years. Of that, 12.8 percent was spent on "representational activities," or $102.6 million. By comparison, the union spent $134.6 million on benefits for its own employees.
Members who opt out and pay the agency fee are responsible for paying part of the $50.8 million the MEA spent in 2011-12 on "general overhead" and the $6.4 million the MEA spent that year on "union administration."
Doug Pratt, spokesman for the MEA, discussed the union's motivations in an interview with WKAR. He talked about the state's right-to-work law and the union's insistence that members be allowed to leave only during the month of August.
"Look, everything is about money," Pratt said. "That's why they passed right-to-work in the first place … to try to starve out unions, particularly the MEA. … Of course this is about money. Everything in politics is about money."
Jim Perialas, president of the independent Roscommon Teachers Association, said everything doesn't have to be about money. Perialas spearheaded the decertification of the MEA affiliated union that previously existed in Roscommon.
"The MEA does what is convenient for the MEA," Perialas said. "Years and years of secrecy have given that organization the bravado to flat out lie to its members because no one questions what they do. … You show unquestioned loyalty, or suffer the consequences. When it comes to agency fees they tell members that most of what they do is negotiations. In reality, most of what they do is spend money on exorbitant salaries and political action."