Massachusetts Teachers – Do You Know Where Your Union Dues Go?

Hey teachers — do you know where your union dues go?

And if you do, are you happy about what they’re being spent on?

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The folks at the Pioneer Institute are making a lot of folks pretty pissed off, apparently for just providing some transparency around where the money that is deducted out the paychecks of teachers really goes. 

(Here’s a picture of Jim Stergios. He’s the head of Pioneer, a handsome guy and I don’t have a picture of Rebekah Paxton who wrote the report. Sorry, Rebekah!)

From the Salem News:

A new report by the Pioneer Institute found less than 16 percent of dues paid by members of nearly two-dozen union locals affiliated with the Massachusetts Teachers Association and National Education Association go to local chapters.

Pioneer said the bulk of the money goes toward salaries, lobbying and other expenses in the state and national offices that have little to do with collective bargaining on behalf of unionized teachers.

“I don’t think teachers are aware of the inordinately high percentage of dues going outside their local union,” said Greg Sullivan, research director for the right-leaning Boston think tank. “The local unions are getting the residual crumbs of their dues, even though they are performing the lion’s share of work negotiating contracts and representing unionized employees.”

Who knows if they are aware? And if they’re not, why aren’t they?

Shouldn’t this be something that you’re told when you are given the form to sign up?

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The article continues with reaction from the new head of the MTA:

“But Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, blasted the report and said it “distorts the facts by contending that most of the costs associated with bargaining and maintaining contracts are incurred at the local level, when in fact the state and national unions pay the salaries of field staff … and others who work with our locals to support bargaining and contract enforcement.”

“This report is yet another attempt by the Pioneer Institute to persuade educators to drop their union membership,” she said. “It won’t work.”

Fundamentally, I just don’t understand why the union is so mad about all this.

If you have good communication with your membership, they are getting major benefits from the state level staff, who are according to Merrie — doing most of the tough work — then what’s the fuss? Why are you so scared about telling your own members what you’re doing with their money? And it’s not chump change we’re talking about here:

“Rebekah Paxton, a Pioneer researcher who authored the study, said the group reviewed financial reports of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, National Education Association and websites of at least 19 of 160 local chapters.

Union dues range from $700 to $900 per year for the locals reviewed for the study, she said.

The Marblehead Education Association, for example, collects $781 a year in dues but only 13 percent of that — about $100 — stays with the chapter, according to the report. The same goes for the Methuen Teachers Association, which collects $783 a year in dues.

The Haverhill Teachers Association collects $847, with only 19 percent going to the local.”


That is a SERIOUS amount of cash. And as it stands, it’s guaranteed money. Here’s how it works:



I mean, can you imagine — 88,000 people, handing over $474 out of their paychecks for you to run your operation?

And they have little to no say about what you do with it. And only about 1000 of them actually participate in the election process that gives you the power to control all that money. Wow.

So do you think all this anxiety Merrie is having could be related to the fact that many of them wouldn’t be so happy about finding out about all this? Why all the fuss?

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Well, it certainly looks like it from their internal budget communications where they describe the imminent threats facing them in the coming years. Not just the potential loss of revenue — but bad press that may come from transparency revealing their internal operations:

(WTF? So what are those reports regarding internal operations going to reveal exactly?)

The MTA seems to like keeping their membership in the dark.

Maybe she knows these local teachers thought their money was staying with their local organization to support their local efforts?

Maybe a lot of them aren’t getting this amazing support from the MTA? (And by the way, only about $13,000,000 of their $48,000,000 budget goes to that field work Merrie described.)

Maybe the members might start asking questions about why they’re paying all this money anyway?

The educators I know are concerned because they see a lot of money being spent on some radical pet projects that have been taken on by the union leadership that tend to be outside the scope of supporting teachers. They’d actually like to be an association of educators who work together to help advance their profession, negotiate strong contracts and then maybe advocate for what’s best for kids.

I haven’t heard a single one of these leaders say, “As educators, we are gravely concerned about the achievement and opportunity gaps that exist in our town/city/state/nation. We are ready to work together to develop innovative ideas that will prepare our members to become the highly skilled educators we need as a piece of the solution. We’re ready to dig in and do our part.”

Nope. It usually just comes down to “give us more money.”

No plan to do anything specific with that money — just dump it on into the broken system— so the broken system gets bigger and creates more union members.

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Back to contracts. If we’re honest, some of the contracts that have been negotiated aren’t really that great. Sure, in Boston, they’ve negotiated themselves into an amazing contract that is so wonderful for the teachers that is financially unsustainable for the city and is so generous to the adults to the point that it actually cripples the ability of BPS to adequately educate our children. But if you’re a teacher, it’s pretty damn sweet. So don’t expect any of those folks to decertify their union any time soon— unless we forced them to live in Boston again.

But it’s a different story outside of Boston. The fact of the matter is, if you’re doing a good job as a union — and are doing right by your members, then of course they’re going to see your value and happily fork over nearly $1000 in dues every year.

I mean, we’ve all heard it before — educators aren’t well paid. So if your union is negotiating you into a contract where you’re not adequately compensated, AND they are taking nearly $1000 off your pay in dues — people aren’t going to be happy if they see you spending it in ways that “may generate negative press based on details of internal operations.”

By the way, the President of the MTA gets a $5750 every month to pay for her private residence. On top of a monster salary. You better hope you’re negotiating some pretty amazing contracts if you’re asking people to finance you like that, honey. 

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And at the same time, the MTA is also using money to endorse Republicans who write legislation to take SNAP benefits away from needy families. Electing a dude who is perpetuating the poverty issues that the MTA says make educating our children “just so impossible.” 

Say what?

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Yep. And the state union often endorsing people who the local unions don’t even want endorsed. With their own damn money.

Deb McCarthy, president the Hull Teachers Association, the Mass. Teachers Association affiliate in the seaside town that is part of the Senate district, said local MTA leaders in the district met on two occasions to discuss the race. “Overwhelmingly, the consensus was to recommend a non-endorsement,” she said. “We were unanimous that both candidates would actively support the MTA’s legislative agenda.”

“Somewhere there was a breakdown in the chain of communications and the vote to endorse Sen. O’Connor happened without the collective wisdom of local leadership,” she said of the statewide union’s move.  

I’m sure we’ll see the wringing of hands from our favorite group of academics who complain about “dark money” (which they have now defined as any money that comes from a source that they don’t agree with) while beating up on Pioneer for shining a light on a source of funding that is NEVER really discussed — Big Labor money. How they get it, what they do with it and who they give it to is never the topic of conversation. Apparently not even with their members.

Maybe it should be.


What do you think?

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