Unions are the Freeloaders

Forced dues spent on politics, benefits for union staff

While there have been many positive responses to the stories of the teachers from across the state fighting to get out of the Michigan Education Association, there also are naysayers.

And a common complaint about the educators who want out of the union is wrong.

The side that supports forcing people to financially support a union to keep their jobs has a standard response: Those teachers are freeloaders — receiving union benefits while not wanting to pay for it.

There are several problems with this stance, but here's the biggest: The MEA, like many unions, spends very little money on bargaining for its members.

According to the MEA's most recent LM-2 filing, which details the union's finances, the MEA spends only 11 percent of its dues on "representational activities." In the past six years, only 12.8 percent was spent in that category.

So where does that money go? It goes to the salaries and benefits of the union's staff.

While only $4.8 million of MEA spending went directly to politics as "political activity and lobbying," the union spent $50.1 million on "general overhead," $24.2 million on benefits, and $6.5 million on union administration. That's more than 60 percent of the nearly $134 million spent by the MEA in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

And $4.8 million is not all the union spent on politics. Disclosure rules make it difficult to find out more specifically what the union spends its money on. But the fees sent to the MEA from public employees is being used to pay for a variety of things including union administrators spending time on politics, communications persuading people to vote a certain way, rallies and get-out-the-vote drives, union employees writing articles on political issues, convention costs and food for workers taking part in "sickouts," among other things. Most people would consider those activities to be political. So why should employees be forced to pay for them?

Because of federal laws, fought for by the unions, employees in union shops are not allowed to represent themselves. For decades, unions have argued in court that they should be allowed to solely represent all employees, as well as use dues money for all activities — including politics.

Because of shifting public opinion, it is not surprising that the associations are now changing their tune. But bear in mind: Teachers exercising right-to-work are not freeloaders — they are forced riders.