Corporatism, Labor, Teachers — August 26, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Anti-union groups in highly-funded effort to get teachers to freeload and “opt-out” of unions that protect them


For the past several decades, teachers have been able to “opt-out” of their membership in the Michigan Education Association (MEA), the teachers union that bargains collectively on their behalf for good wages, benefits, and working conditions and that is there for them when they are being treated unfairly. During the month of August, teachers that don’t see the benefit of their membership in the MEA were free to leave.

For the past couple of years, the corporate-funded, anti-union group the Mackinac Center has made it their mission in life to get as many teachers to leave the MEA as possible in order to leave them without the funds they need to operate. The goal is clear: without membership dues, the voice of teachers in negotiations, in the media, and, most importantly, in Lansing where laws affecting them are passed, is silenced.

Don’t take this assessment from me. Take it from Jarrett Skorup, the Mackinac Center’s Digital Engagement Manager, who tweeted this back in June:

Skorup pulled what he thought was the most important sentence on the MEA’s website, a clear statement that he and his employer agree completely and that this is their goal.

Back in 2011, Mackinac Center senior legislative analyst Jack McHugh sent an email to former House Education Committee Chair Tom McMillin making the point even more bluntly:

Our goal is (to) outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan, which in practical terms means no more MEA.

I just wanted to be sure we’re all clear what their intentions are here. It’s not to “[make] sure that every eligible member who wants out of the union has the ability to do so”, as the Mackinac Center’s director of labor policy Vincent Vernuccio the Detroit News. MEA members already have that ability and have for decades.

The Mackinac Center’s effort, put simply, is to destroy the political power of the MEA. Period.

And, wow, are they going to town on that effort. Not only that, they’ve engaged some of their corporatist front group pals like Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and National Right to Work.

Here is a sampling of some paid Facebook ads they’ve been running this month:

That last one went up last night and by this morning it had only ten “Likes” but 75 comments, nearly all of which were from teachers outraged that an outside, corporate-funded anti-union group was taking it upon themselves to encourage teachers to harm their own self-interests by not supporting the MEA.

But this well-coordinated and massively-funded effort doesn’t stop with Facebook ads. As reported here early this summer, the Mackinac Center spammed the work emails of essentially every MEA teacher in the state encouraging them to leave the union that protects them, telling them that “you are no longer obligated to financially support the union in any way.”

They also did a mass mailing, sending postcards to MEA teachers encouraging them to “decide if they want to be in their union and pay dues of around $1,000 a year.”

That last bit is a particularly egregious lie since MEA dues are based on the teacher’s income and the most any teacher would pay is $640. They’ve been at least partially successful with that particular lie, it appears. In the Detroit News article, a teacher is quoted asking “What am I getting for the over $1,000 in union dues I’m paying?” She’s not only not paying OVER $1,000, she’s paying far less than that.

The MEA has detailed the extent of this massive anti-union effort at their website. It includes an astonishing list:

  • Targeted Google ads
  • Targeted Facebook ads
  • Opt Out Facebook page
  • Opt Out website
  • Mass post card mailings
  • Mass emails to school email accounts
  • Devoted the Mackinac Center website homepage to Opt Out
  • Earned media
  • Op Eds by staffers in newspapers across the state
  • Newspapers Op Eds written by surrogates
  • Push poll/robo calls
  • Mackinac Center Twitter feeds
  • Mackinac Center staffer Twitter feeds
  • AFP FaceBook posts
  • AFP Free Press ad mentioning both the Mackinac Center and the Opt Out site

The MEA even got a list of the questions asked in the push-polling being done on this by an unidentified group that is surely affiliated with the Mackinac Center’s Opt-Out effort.

  • Are you an MEA member?
  • Do you support the union?
  • How would your support change if you knew it supported pro-choice candidates?
  • How would your support change if you knew it supported taking away gun rights?
  • How would your support change if you knew it supported tax increases over spending reform?
  • How would your support change if you knew the average member paid around $1,000 in dues?
  • Do you know you can only opt out in August?
  • Do you want more information on how to opt out?

As the MEA makes clear, these questions are largely based on fabricated lies by a mysterious polling group called “Common Sense Issues”:

Every one of the “would your support change” questions are premised on a lie.

  • The MEA funds no candidates. Such support is illegal.
  • It’s a manufactured myth that the MEA has ever taken a position on either gun control or abortion, it hasn’t.
  • It recommends candidates on both sides of these questions, so long as they support public education.
  • The MEA supports restoring funding cuts to classrooms, including from spending reforms.
  • MEA dues are capped hundreds of dollars below the $1,000 level.

Don’t think the anti-union, anti-teacher groups are done after August, either. Their latest project is to go after salary schedules that ensure that teachers enjoy raises as they gain experience and as inflation goes up. This latest effort is already in play with a former MEA member named Rob Wiersema talking trash about union membership in various venues and writing newspaper op-eds that say things like:

The step scale system also distorts the true market value of teachers. Most of us, including myself (sic) are paid above market value…Because wages are high, districts must restrict the number of teachers hired.

Leave it to the Mackinac Center and their shills to consider teaching something that has a “market value”. If they get their way, teaching will eventually follow the model of Teach for America where anyone can do it, regardless of their educational background or training, and where salaries and benefits are eroded over time until good teachers simply leave the profession.

Teachers have four more days to decide if the protections offered to them by their union which ensure a fair wage, good benefits, and support when problems arise is worth a tiny portion of their annual salary (1.5% or $640, whichever is less.)

If you are a new teacher, it may seem like an unnecessary expense that you could spend on something else (as these corporate groups would encourage you to do.) However, keep in mind that the starting salary and benefits that you received and the ongoing support you get from your union depend on your membership dues. If you elect NOT to remain a member of your union, you will continue to receive these benefits even though you won’t be contributing. You will be counting on your coworkers to provide the essential financial support that is needed to fund the union’s activities.

There is simply no other word for that than “freeloading”.

My prediction is that, despite spending this enormous amount of money and other resources, the Mackinac Center and their corporatist partners will once again find that teachers overwhelmingly support their unions and will continue to do so. I feel pretty confident that, like last year when fewer than 1% of the MEA members left in August, teachers will make the choice that is in their own self-interest.

At the end of the day, it’s in ALL of our self-interest that teachers are represented by unions. The alternative is that the teaching profession will be diminished to the point that our children will be educated by poorly paid people who will leave as soon as something better comes along. None of us should hope for that day to come to pass.