News Story

Union Opposes Privatization For Others, Outsources For Itself

MEA spent $155K outsourcing non-union janitorial services

The Michigan Education Association has been an outspoken critic of school districts that privatize custodial services to save money.

Yet, the MEA contracts out work with non-union companies for its own janitorial services. The state's largest teachers union had contracts with six companies in 2012-13, according to financial reports it filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The MEA paid a total of $155,623 for janitorial services in 2012-13, the records show. The MEA paid the companies between $5,500 to $86,112. Michigan Capitol Confidential confirmed that the companies are not unionized.

The MEA did not respond to a request seeking comment.

"It is good to see that the Michigan Education Association remains a champion of competitive contracting — at least at their headquarters," said Michael LaFaive, the director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "This is a useful management technique that can save money and improve services. Unfortunately, the MEA has long opposed the practice in districts with whom they bargain. Such hypocrisy is rank, but it doesn't seem to bother this old industrial union of janitors, bus drivers, food service workers and teachers."

On its own website, the MEA spells out why it doesn't want school districts to follow in the MEA's steps when it comes to hiring private contractors to do work.

The appeal of privatization is based on the flawed economic assumption that private companies can provide the same services as public school employers at lower costs. Theoretically, a good contract with a private firm could provide the same services with the same quality, responsiveness and accountability as an in-house operation. The problem is that to achieve this, a private contractor is very likely to charge more than it costs to provide the service in-house. Private contractors need to earn profits, finance corporate overhead and pay taxes. These factors drive the cost of the contract up and/or the quality and quantity of the service down. Time after time, districts that try to save money by hiring private contractors end up with inferior service, higher costs or both.

The MEA sponsors a Statewide Anti-Privatization Committee. And at its most recent annual conference, the union had several sessions on "fighting privatization." Part of the description for one read: "Come learn how to recognize the threat of Privatization, how to fight privatization battles, defending members’ careers, and steps to take in protecting your own local."

Charles Owens, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, called the MEA's practice inconsistent. He said if the union truly opposes privatization for schools, it shouldn't be outsourcing its own janitorial services.

"If they are saying that for the people they represent, then they certainly should be setting the example," Owens said. "Otherwise it sounds an awful lot like, 'Do as I say, not as I do'."

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.