A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Survey: Teachers in Right-to-Work States Live Quite Comfortably

However, teachers' union still pushing stories that claim right-to-work linked to poverty, problems

West Ottawa Public Schools teacher Dan Dennis bemoans “life in a right-to-work state” in a story in the recent issue of the Michigan Education Association magazine.

In the story, Dennis wrote about how in 1999 he went from making $40,000 a year in Michigan to $30,000 a year when he moved to and taught at a high school in North Carolina, which already was a right-to-work state.

Dennis lamented in the story about the cost of living, which he said was slightly higher in North Carolina and complained about not having an all-encompassing health care plan. He wrote:

I was provided a major medical health plan. If I desired dental or vision insurance, I was welcome to open a cafeteria plan to pay for dental and vision insurance (pre-tax). How nice of them. 

My wife was not covered on my major medical plan. If we wanted health insurance for her, we were welcome to pay around $300 a month for those benefits.

His complaints, however, about low pay and right-to-work are contradicted by a website that tracks teacher compensation nationwide.

When cost of living is factored in, teachers are just as likely to make a "comfortable" living in a right-to-work state than a non-right-to-work state, according to Teacherportal.com, a website operated by the California-based QuinStreet Inc.

In fact, when it comes to teacher salaries, 13 of the top 23 states were right-to-work states in terms of "salary comfort index," which factors in salaries and cost of living, the survey reported.

According to the website, "The Comfort Score examined average salaries (both starting and overall) and compared that to the cost of living."

The top 13 right-to-work states do not include Michigan, which enacted a right-to-work law in 2012, but it does include Wisconsin, where school boards are not compelled to negotiate with unions. Teacherportal.com used 2011 salary data from the National Education Association, job surveys and private data.

"The employees are doing perfectly fine under right-to-work," said Leon Drolet, chair of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance. "It's the union bosses who are crying like spoiled brats."

A top-of-scale teacher at West Ottawa Public Schools in Ottawa County would make between $71,935 a year to $81,912 a year after 18 years of teaching, depending on level of education.

Michigan, with an average teacher salary of $63,940 a year, is ranked third highest in the salary comfort index, behind Connecticut and Illinois. North Carolina, with an average teacher salary of $46,605 a year, ranked 35th in the index.

However, right-to-work states Wyoming, Louisiana, Nevada, Indiana, Alabama and Georgia all were in the top 12 of the salary comfort index.

Michigan ranks second in the nation for salary when cost-of-living is factored in, according to an analysis of salaries by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Dennis, the West Ottawa teacher, said he think Michigan's higher salaries and better benefits are because right-to-work wasn't in effect until recently.

"Right-to-work is not good for employees, it is great for employers," he said. "Turning Michigan into a right-to-work state, in my opinion, is akin to punishing a successful investment company, not due to violation of law, but simply because others are envious that those who use that investment company are earning bigger dividends than they are."

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See also:

Michigan Capitol Confidential Coverage of Right-to-Work