Friday, March 12, 2010

Pushing a Bad Economy Uphill

cross posted at Right Michigan

"Oh, it doesn't bother me one bit. I love it."

That is my response to a question asked by MSU labor and industrial relations professor Richard Block.

"The question of compensation is always a difficult one. What is the right amount?"

"Levels of compensation are a function of the responsibility of the person, the culture of the organization as well as what other local officials are getting."


"It may not bother the membership, and the membership is paying the bills, so why should it bother us?"
Like I said, it doesn't bother me. But, it is still worth documenting for the sheer chance of enjoying a delicious future irony.

You see, Michigan teachers are paid much higher than the national average. (The same could be said of Michigan's legislators.) This despite the fact that Michigan's economy and the state budget on which it is dependent is in a virtual free fall. Education represents a huge portion of the state budget and as it has been pointed out by the Mackinac Center, a mere reduction of teacher's salaries and benefits to near the national average would cut our most gloomy budget deficit projections in half.

Much of the reason that Michigan educators are currently paid more than the national average (and also much of the reason why rectifying this situation is exceedingly difficult) is the success of the Michigan Education Association. Let's make no bones about it, the MEA is not an organization whose main objective is to help Michigan efficiently and effectively educate its children--instead its sole goal is to assist educators in receiving higher salaries and benefits.

It is very good at what it does.

However, economic realities have the ability to eventually penetrate even the most imposing of citadels.
Lansing teachers got a half-percent pay increase last fall and took a hit on health care to help the cash-strapped school district.

After two years without a contract, Leslie teachers settled last fall for a 50 percent cut in so-called step increases, or annual raises for increasing seniority.
Districts are struggling and they are making all the possible adjustments that they can. This includes attempting to rein in the compensation of teachers, though most of the non-teachers I know would still be thrilled with the prospect of a 1/2 percent pay increase.

This sacrifice being made by some teachers is one that has been pushed uphill.

While the teaching profession in Michigan has for years enjoyed benefits that are nearly unheard of in the private and non unionized sectors, most taxpayers began feeling the bite of a struggling Michigan economy some ten years ago. As affected taxpayers struggled and cut back on their consumption of donuts, coffee, 4-wheelers, and weekly trips to the campground, this affected a wider and wider group of people.

Businesses, hurt by the loss of revenue, had to make cut backs and layoffs. Those who were laid off cut back even more on consumption, became a burden on the unemployment system, started watching The View, and sent in even fewer taxes. Per pupil funding began to fluctuate from year to year and sometimes even more radically from season to season.

While the hurt being felt by taxpayers has been pushed uphill far enough to impact school districts, and even farther up the hill to impact some teachers, economic realities have yet to reach the summit, that being MEA headquarters.
And some staffers and officials of the Michigan Education Association got pay boosts last year ranging from 6.8 percent for the mailroom coordinator to nearly 15 percent for President Iris Salters.

At a time when local teachers' unions are struggling to maintain salary and benefits and the union's statewide membership is declining, many MEA negotiators and executive director Luigi Battaglieri also got hefty pay increases.

That's the cost of doing business, said Doug Pratt, MEA director of communications.

"Do we compensate our officers well? Do we compensate our managers well? Yes," he said.

"We believe in attracting and recruiting the best possible candidates."
Which must explain why the MEA got itself one of the best mail room coordinators on the face of the planet (for a paltry $64K plus bennies.)

To this point there has been little if any squawking from rank and file union members over the continuation and expansion of lavish compensation packages for their MEA administrators. Like the good professor asked, if we don't pay it directly, why should we care at all?

The more interesting question is this, when I start to hear the grumbling can I judiciously ask: "There, how do you like having your plight ignored while getting screwed over like the rest of us have been?"

Oops, maybe I already have.

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