Teachers have choices about unions

Re: Steven Cook’s July 29 Detroit News column, “Think tank’s effort to discredit union fails”: In his piece, Michigan Education Association president Steve Cook writes that “public school employees have not been treated well by … special interest groups in recent years.”

Thousands of Michigan teachers agree, but the group they feel mistreated by is Cook’s own union. The MEA is ruining the personal credit scores of the very employees he represents by sending them to collection agencies for exercising their right to opt out of their union. For some who exercised their rights, MEA affiliates published their names in an attempt to publicly shame them and pressure them into paying again.

Two MEA members in Lansing Public Schools, 37-year union member Mary Davenport and secretary LaKiesha Allen, are particularly upset with Cook. Cook previously worked as a paraprofessional for the district, but left to work for the union in the early 1990s. However, he entered into a special deal with the district to remain as an “educator on loan,” which allowed him to rack up credits in the state’s public school employee pension system even though he worked exclusively for the MEA, a private nonprofit.

School employee pensions in Michigan are based on an employee’s final average salary and years of service. Because of his special deal with the district, Cook gets to base his pension on his current $200,000 plus union salary and years working for the MEA — increasing the value of his pension more than tenfold.

And this deal isn’t unique. The past three MEA presidents all arranged special deals to spike their pensions.

Last year, approximately 5,000 school employees left the MEA. Some disagree with union politics. Some teachers expressed dissatisfaction with union leadership, while others felt that union representation wasn’t worth nearly $1,000 per year.

The Mackinac Center has heard from thousands of teachers looking for help and clarity about Michigan’s right-to-work law. The MEA has a complicated “August window” that the Mackinac Center is challenging in court, which a state labor board declared illegal.

The MEA is reluctant to tell teachers about their legal rights — a role the Mackinac Center is happy to fill.

Michael J. Reitz,

executive vice president

Mackinac Center for Public Policy