Cook: Think tank’s effort to discredit union fails

Steven Cook

Public school employees work in a field that is both challenging and rewarding. Their dedication to their students and their profession should be recognized and lauded. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Public school employees have not been treated well by politicians and special interest groups in recent years.

One group in particular, the Mackinac Center, has spent considerable time and resources attacking public education and school employees. The center, which touts itself as a “think tank,” is corporately funded. These corporations seek to carve out their profit from taxpayers who fund the $15 billion public school budget. They use their investment in the Mackinac Center to fund one sided “studies” attacking public schools, which are then repeated as fact by the media. Those same corporations (and their campaign contributions) hold considerable influence over the Republican Legislature.

The studies are peddled to legislators, imploring them to privatize public education, which in turn enriches the corporations who fund the Mackinac Center. The return on those corporate investments is evident, as shown by the dramatic growth of privatization in public schools. The wave of private sector profit making began with support services, such as custodial/maintenance and food services and continues with the increase in on-line cyber schools at the expense of funding traditional neighborhood schools. The Mackinac Center’s push for privatization of public education led lawmakers to remove the cap on for-profit charter schools—making Michigan home to the largest number of for-profit charters in the nation.

The Michigan Education Association has stood as the one road block to this scheme, fighting for and defending public education and those who work in our public schools. As such, the Mackinac Center has conducted expensive campaigns attempting to persuade MEA members to quit the union. The center purchased full page newspaper ads, conducted robo calls to MEA members, created Facebook pages, sent emails to taxpayer funded school email addresses, sent Twitter feeds, and mailed letters and postcards urging MEA members to leave their union.

The campaign, now in its third year has been a bust, as MEA has retained over 90 percent of its membership since the “right to work” law was passed. The solicitation to MEA members has failed for one simple reason: The Mackinac Center lacks credibility with school employees. School employees are well aware of the center’s agenda, which goes far beyond the privatization of public schools. The Center has supported every attack on school employee wages, benefits and collective bargaining rights put forth by the legislature. The Mackinac Center even calls for privatization of the school employee pension system.

Some find it curious that an “independent think tank” which claims to study public policy issues would spend so much time and money attempting to convince MEA members to opt out of their union. Along with their political activities, these activities clearly violate IRS regulations and their tax exempt status should be revoked. But the larger question is this: why is the Mackinac Center spending so much money attempting to persuade MEA members to quit the union?

The answer is simple. A loss of membership would weaken school employees’ strength at the bargaining table and in the political arena, allowing the center’s corporate backers to further privatize and profit from public education. The Mackinac Center doesn’t care about public school employees. They are simply attempting to use them to further they own agenda.

MEA members are too smart to be fooled by those whose have sought to destroy public education. I am proud of the loyalty they have shown to their union and the work they do every day in our public schools.

Steven Cook is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.