News Story

Who’s the Freeloader? MEA Spends More On Benefits Than Bargaining

Union member: 'I hope the MEA wants to win back the loyalty of its former members'

Ravenna Public Schools teacher Dusty Fairfield estimates he’s given $25,000 in union dues to the Michigan Education Association over his career. In August, he used the state's right-to-work law to leave the MEA.

Now Fairfield is one of a group of teachers MEA President Steve Cook refers to as "freeloaders."

Although he left the MEA, Fairfield said he gave a financial contribution to his local union.

Over the years, he said he invested heavily in the MEA, but felt the union wasn't always working in his best interests. For example, Fairfield said the MEA representative who negotiated on his behalf cost him $10,000 in earning power years ago by focusing on keeping the MEA's health insurance company, MESSA, as the union's provider. MESSA has historically cost more than most other health insurance providers.

Cook called teachers who opt out of the MEA under the right-to-work law "freeloaders" in a TV interview, despite the MEA spending just 11 percent of its expenditures on "representational activities" in 2011-12, according to the union's most recent filing with the U.S. Department of Labor.

In fact, the MEA has spent more on its own employees' benefits than on representing its members the past six years, according to its own reports.

Cook's comments about "freeloaders" are bothersome to at least one teacher who stayed with the MEA.

John Ellsworth, a teacher in the Grand Ledge School District, said he knew of the August deadline to leave the MEA, but didn't.

"I hope the MEA wants to win back the loyalty of its former members, and I believe name-calling, peer pressure, and fear-mongering are not the best strategies to do so," Ellsworth said.

Cook made his comments last week on the WKAR show, "Off The Record."

In the interview, Cook said 99 percent of the members "who could have either became freeloaders or fee payers, chose to stay."

Cook didn't respond to a request for comment.

But just how is the MEA spending the money that Fairfield and others gave it from 2007-2012?

According to MEA filings, 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 its own employees’ benefits.

"Mr. Cook can say anything he wishes," Fairfield said. "It's a poor choice of words. I call a 'freeloader' a person who is paid to do a job and does not do the job the money was intended for."

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.