News Story

Republican State Senate Sits on Union Reform Bills

In 2011, Michigan public school employee unions took more than $630 from the paychecks of each school employee on average, according to government disclosures they must file. The state’s largest school employee union, the Michigan Education Association, collected $62.8 million from these union dues and nonvoluntary fees. Combined with other revenues, this sum amounted to more than $93 for every student in the state.

Every dollar collected by school and government employee unions is provided by taxpayers, who also contribute through two other questionable practices that the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate has allowed to continue after the state House voted to prohibit them.

First, many school district payrolls contain “phantom employees” in the form of full-time union stewards who are paid the same salary and benefits as a regular teacher, but do little or no teaching, only union work. All told, 39 school districts in Michigan engage in the practice. In some, the union picks up part of the individual salary expense, but in others, taxpayers pay it all. Statewide, this reduces the amount available to pay real teachers by at least $2.6 million annually. (A similar "phantom employee" scheme for federal employee unions cost U.S. taxpayers $129 million in 2009.) 

Last spring the Michigan House passed House Bill 4059, which would prohibit this practice. On April 26, the legislation was referred to the Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee, chaired by Senator Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids, which has not acted on it since. Republicans hold a 5-2 majority on the committee, and s 26-12 majority in the Senate. (The other GOP Senators on this committee are Colbeck, Casperson, Kowall and Robertson.)

The second way Michigan taxpayers indirectly subsidize government unions is by allowing school and government payroll systems to be used to automatically extract union dues and nonvoluntary fees from each employee's paycheck. The public employers then pass this money along to the unions. The union dues and fees appear as deductions on employee pay stubs, just like Social Security and other payroll taxes.

Legislation to ban this practice has also passed in the state House but then stalled in the state Senate. House Bill 4929 passed the House 55-53 on Sept. 15, 2011, and since then has been stuck in the same Senate Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Committee chaired by Sen. Jansen. Gov. Rick Snyder is reportedly prepared to sign the bill if the state Senate will act.

Under the bill, school employee unions would have to use their own resources to collect mandated dues and fees, just as other associations do. Since required union disclosure forms indicate that less than half of this money is actually spent representing employees in contract and other workplace activities, unions collecting their own dues and fees could face real headaches. As Mackinac Center Labor Policy Director Paul Kersey has put it, “Teachers who are opposed to the union may express their dissatisfaction by dragging their heels. ...”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.