Limited Taxation & Government


"For the Children"
Education Project

Can Michigan be different from Massachusetts?

From: The Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Teachers Disagree with MEA Policies and Activities

MEA union leaders try to convince people that the MEA speaks for teachers, and that criticism of the MEA is the same as criticism of teachers, public education, or even education per se. The reality, however, is that Michigan teachers oppose many of the MEA’s key initiatives and policies.

An internal March 1989 survey commissioned by the MEA paints a telling picture of the degree to which the MEA union leadership is out of step with union members. The evaluation, conducted by the Washington, D.C., firm The Analysis Group, Inc., included both teachers and support employees. The results speak for themselves. The survey found that:

  • 69% of teachers and 86% of leaders are bothered that "the MEA takes stands I do not agree with;"

  • 64% of teachers are bothered that "the MEA is mainly committed to union goals, not professional goals for education;"

  • 75% of teachers and 80% of leaders within the MEA are bothered that "the MEA gets involved in issues, like abortion, that have nothing to do with education;"

  • 55% of teachers are bothered that "the MEA is too liberal;"

  • 67% of leaders within the MEA are bothered that "the MEA is too liberal;" and

  • 57% of teachers are bothered that "the MEA never tells us how the dues money is being spent."

A telling anecdotal comment regarding the chasm that exists between union leaders and union members appeared in The Saginaw News in 1994. Saginaw High School economics teacher and former union representative Mark W. Hoerauf expressed the sentiments of a large number of fellow teachers. MEA officials, he said, "aren’t representing us effectively because they are not in line with our thinking." Hoerauf went on to say, "The people the MEA hires down in Lansing and Detroit are so much more removed. I don’t think I’m getting my money’s worth. The union is getting to be too much of a bureaucracy."

One reason for this situation is the lack of accountability that arises when teachers are forced by state law and their union contract to contribute financially to the labor union. Union leaders need not earn the voluntary financial support of their members. Few teachers know that they have a legal right not to pay the portion of their dues that goes to fund union political activity.

MEA Hypocritical on Privatization

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy works with Michigan school officials to help channel more resources to the classroom by reducing the cost of noninstructional activities. These support functions—transportation, food service, and custodial work, for example—are increasingly being contracted out by school boards to private firms, saving money and often improving quality at the same time. This frees up resources to be put to work in the classroom, or to be used in other ways that can avoid higher taxes. Injecting competitive bidding into the process of providing these services is simply good stewardship of public funds and a sound management practice.

In a 1993 internal document titled "Parameters," however, the Michigan Education Association made it plain where it stands on this issue. It unequivocally opposes "any privatization of public school functions." True to this document, the MEA worked hard—although unsuccessfully—to defeat legislation in 1994 that gave Michigan school boards greater freedom to reduce costs by contracting out for support services.

Despite the MEA’s opposition to schools contracting out for support services, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy discovered in 1994 that the MEA contracts with a number of companies to perform the very tasks at its East Lansing headquarters that it opposes for public schools. The Mackinac Center found that Lansing-area private companies, not unionized employees of the MEA, were busy providing the union with all its custodial work, food service, security, and mailing functions. Furthermore, three of the four firms used were non-union. The company that operated the MEA’s cafeteria was the very same firm that operates many public school cafeterias.

If it is acceptable for the MEA to save money by contracting out for support services, why is it wrong to school boards to do the same thing to channel more financial resources into the classroom?

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