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Everyone thinks of the “union” as your particular “local” but that is only the closest layer and the one that is in direct contact with the members and the district. However, the local is backed by the MEA.
The MEA is fully supported by our $640 union dues. Those funds allow the MEA to operate in the legislative arena, pay for legal representation for members, pay for Uniserv directors, and pay for travel expenses for members, etc. Perhaps one of the most crucial tasks is the one undertaken by the MEA executive board members: inform, lobby, and educate state and national legislators. As far as the leadership of the MEA, these are individuals that you would want to represent you: they are dedicated, models of integrity and care about the current plight educators are experiencing in Michigan. I had the opportunity recently to sit with them at a dinner and let me tell you, there are no “fat cat” union bosses here. These are people that are prepared, articulate and know our craft and our issues.
Influence and leverage
You may think “A lot of good, the MEA has done for me” and that is a valid thought: with the losses in leverage and erosion of worker rights in education recently. However, the MEA is working to preserve what we have and, of course, augment that influence through political action.
If you look at the operating budget for the MEA, it may look like an impressive number but it dwarfs in comparison to the budgets (and profits) of just about any “small business” and not-so-small businesses (i.e. Pearson, any textbook company, etc.). You have heard the saying “money talks” and in this current political climate more than ever.
The greatest challenge that the MEA and all its members are facing is the current state mindset towards privatizing education and away from public education. The formula seems to be:
- Weaken the union (Right-to-work; Dues collection not allowed through employer, etc.)
- Underfund districts (See the Truth about Funding youtube- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwoxWlREvxo)
- Have an Emergency Manager take over
- Eliminate the staff
- Make a charter school district- Appoint a for-profit education provider and start teachers off in the low 30,000 (regardless of experience)
Such an event already occurred in Muskegon Heights, where Mosaica Education (125 million annual profit for the company that runs 90 school districts nation-wide) took public, state funds to run the district. Below are a couple of links if you wish to read the sad story in more detail. I have also attached a pdf of the Mosaica Education employee handbook- you will find it both amusing and terrifying.
The MEA is well cognizant of what the implication of this drive for privatization means for educators: lower wages, worse working condition and- more importantly- worse learning outcomes for students. How the struggle goes will depend on the strength of our members- the more of us that participate, the more power we will have. Additionally, in the political realm, two things are needed:
- More contributions to the MEA-PAC- we will never match the resources of the private sector but every dollar makes us stronger in the political arena
- Political support- you may be a democrat, republican, “Tea Party”, Green party supporter but, right now, there are only two candidates that “speak our language” and understand the attack that public schools and public school teachers are under: Mark Schauer and his running mate Lisa Brown.
The bottom line is that we are the MEA. It is easy to question what the MEA does but each member must have a role also. If we don’t stand together now, there may come a day where we have no rights and no union.