News Story

Teachers Find Union Alternatives

Liability insurance, legal protection, professional resources all available at a fraction of the union cost

Now that Michigan is a right-to-work state, more and more educators who chose to leave the Michigan Education Association are turning to professional organizations to get legal protection and liability coverage. The American Association of Educators says calls are coming in daily and membership in Michigan has doubled.

“The new climate in Michigan is proof that when teachers have the right to choose, many decide to flee the unions in favor of professional associations that provide similar benefits, at a fraction of the cost,” said AAE spokesperson Alexandra Freeze.

Her organization is getting particular attention this month because the MEA says August is the only time its members can leave. That is being contested in legal proceedings.

A new poll out this week by National Employee Freedom Week reveals how a “new climate” is emerging in Michigan. When asked, “Should employees have the right to decide, without force or penalty, whether to join or leave a labor union,” nationally, 83 percent of those surveyed answered “yes”. In Michigan, the percentage was 84 percent, the fifth highest “yes” response in the nation.

One benefit the MEA touts as part of membership is the $1 million liability protection it gives members as part of their $800 to $1,000 annual dues. AAE charges $198 for annual membership and provides $2 million in liability protection. And unlike the union coverage, explains Freeze, AAE’s members own the policy, eliminating the need to go through a chain of command at the union when making a claim.

Additionally, liability insurance doesn’t cost organizations a great sum of money when they purchase a policy to cover hundreds of thousands of people. At a hearing before the Michigan Employment Relations Commission this year, the MEA’s executive director said the plan is offered through the parent organization, the National Education Association, and costs $4.35 a year per member.

The difference between the costs of benefits and fees paid is what has driven teachers like Rob Wiersema to seek coverage through AAE.

“I’m getting more bang for the buck,” said Wiersema.

How much dues money goes to actual benefits can be determined by reading a union’s LM-2 form filed with the federal government every year. In 2013, for example, the MEA collected $133.4 million in revenue, but spent just $14.2 million on “representational activities” that year. The rest went to general overhead, salaries and benefits for staff, and union administration. It spent $9.3 million on political activity and lobbying.

The MEA is also telling members they lose the chance to vote on contracts if they quit the union. Unions, however, have fought in court to protect their right to “exclusive representation,” meaning they get to bargain on behalf of all workers in a unit, not just members.

Freeze points out that workers are getting frustrated by “one size fits all” contracts. She uses the example of single teachers without children who may not need extra days off with pay but instead would prefer higher pay overall.

“The teachers who join our group think of themselves as true professionals, not laborers on the line,” Freeze added.

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.