News Story

Commentary: Stop Forcing Michigan Taxpayers To Pay for Government Union Stewards

MEA, other union leaders being paid to perform union business on taxpayers' dime costs millions

In his nationally syndicated column this week, George Will sheds light on government employee union officials collecting paychecks from public schools and governments to perform union business on taxpayers’ time. The column is timely for Michigan, since a bill to ban the practice passed by the state House almost a year ago has been stuck ever since in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Sadly, this form of taxpayer abuse is all too common in Michigan. Last year, CapCon broke the news that 39 Michigan public school districts are paying Michigan Education Association union stewards to do union business on school time. The payments add up to several million dollars in salary alone, and these individuals also receive very generous fringe benefits. From the story:

Maryanne Levine is a full-time elementary school teacher with the Chippewa Valley School District who was elected to the Michigan Education Association board of directors. The district releases her from teaching responsibilities so that she can deal 100 percent with union issues. But Chippewa Valley still pays for $103,807 of Levine’s $145,117 total compensation. The union pays the remaining $41,310.

Larry Schulte, another of the district’s full-time elementary teachers, is allowed to spend half of his time involved in union business. Chippewa Valley pays $104,480 of his $125,135 total compensation. The union pays the remaining $20,655.

“Taxpayers pay twice when districts grant unions these privileges,” said Michael Van Beek, Mackinac Center's education policy director, at the time. “They’ve got to foot the bill for the union boss’ pay and for the pay of somebody else to actually teach while the union boss enjoys release time. It’s an arrangement that has no positive impact for students, parents or taxpayers.”

As mentioned, way back on April 14, 2011, the Michigan House passed a bill (HB 4059) banning the practice. Since arriving in the Senate the next day, it has sat in the Reforms, Restructuring and Reinventing Government Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township, with no vote and apparently no hearings. This despite the fact that the Michigan Senate has a historic 26-12 Republican majority.

George Will describes some similar abuses from other states. In Arizona, taxpayers are paying $900,000 for this so-called “release time” each year given to police union members to work exclusively on union business. As he puts it, this “includes lobbying, on the city’s time and the taxpayers’ dime.” The workers even collect overtime pay.

Will points out this is an inherent conflict of interest for public-sector unions in their negotiations with government. “In the private sector, unions are not effectively on both sides of the negotiation table. Collusion between the employer and the employees union is inherent in public-sector unionization, particularly because public-sector employers and employees have congruent interests in increasing government budgets.”

Government employee unions are themselves an inherent conflict of interest, but at the very least taxpayers should not be forced to pay the special interests sitting on both sides of the bargaining table.

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.