News Story

Michigan Public School Employees Pay For One of the Country's Richest Unions

Education reforms trump deep pockets of the MEA

The Michigan Education Association was the fourth wealthiest union among its peers under the National Education Association umbrella and the MEA’s employee payroll was third-highest in the country as of 2009-10, according to a union watchdog organization.

Despite a 0.9 percent drop in total income in 2009-10 from the previous year, the MEA still brought in $77.4 million in 2009-10, the fourth-highest in the country among the 53 NEA affiliates. Only California at $186.2 million, New York at $128.8 million, and New Jersey with $120.5 million brought in more money.

The MEA brought in $623.90 per member it represents, making it the 3rd highest in the country among K-12 NEA union affiliates. Only Indiana with $796.60 and New Jersey with $674.52 had more money per member.

Total compensation for MEA employees, $68.5 million, was also third-highest in the country among NEA affiliates.

Mike Antonucci of the of the Education Intelligence Agency, a research firm in California that reports on public school union activities, found that 18 state affiliates of the National Education Association lost money in 2009-10.

MEA spokesman Doug Pratt didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Despite being one of the most lucrative unions in the NEA, the MEA suffered one of its worst years politically last year. Some MEA members have questioned their union’s effectiveness. Last September, Grand Ledge teacher and former local union president John Ellsworth questioned how effective the MEA had been. 

Ellsworth also noted news reports of MEA officials getting hefty raises during a period when he said many teachers were facing cut backs.

For example, then-MEA President Iris Salters’ total compensation in 2010 was $414,443, with a base salary of $280,598. Salters got a 10.1 percent raise in base salary from 2009, when she made $254,762. Salters’ 2010 total compensation was a 17.7 percent increase from 2009, when her total compensation was $352,020.

“Why not take the money and run?” Ellsworth said. “… There are a lot of people upset they are sending their money to East Lansing (MEA headquarters) and not getting a whole lot for it.”

Significant reform — over the objections of the MEA — occurred in Michigan last year. Several legislative changes have taken place since Gov. Rick Snyder took office. Government employees, including teachers, now have to pay 20 percent of their health insurance costs and tenure reform prohibits districts from using seniority as criteria for layoffs and recall. The tenure rule changes also make it easier to fire ineffective teachers. An artificial cap on the number of charter public schools also has been lifted.

In retaliation for leading the reform efforts, the MEA supported the recall of Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, in November. But Republican Joe Graves won the special election to replace Scott.

After the Michigan House and Senate passed a bill that stops K-12 school districts from automatically taking dues out of employees’ paychecks, AFT Michigan President David Hecker wrote March 7 on a Facebook post: “In part, today was the most depressing day I have ever spent as a 36 year member of the labor movement.”

Jack McHugh, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s senior legislative analyst, said the past year was a defeat for the MEA, but that the union’s win-loss record is about 30-1.

“Government unions are responsible for government and school employees here collecting annual benefits worth $5.7 billion more than their neighbors who work in the private sector," McHugh wrote in an email. "Until last year, the MEA had choked charter school expansion for almost 20 years, despite waiting lists with tens of thousands of students begging to escape unionized conventional schools where no learning takes place. Ditto for halting teacher tenure reform, which has made it almost impossible to fire even felonious teachers. Of course fiscal reality eventually catches up with school districts like Highland Park, Muskegon Heights and Detroit, which are driven by union-sponsored fiscal abuse into virtual states of bankruptcy. Those fiscal realities were the main driver for relatively modest reforms enacted last year (that came) in the face of intense union demagoguery and opposition including a successful recall targeting one of the reformers. Still, the union has had a remarkable run of success — never mind the fiscal carnage their success has wreaked on taxpayers and institutions.”

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.