The Michigan Education Association, a labor union which represent teachers in the Mitten State, was recently called out for contracting with non-unionized companies for janitorial services at its headquarters. This is despite the MEA’s outspoken criticism of Michigan school districts that are also seeking to privatize custodial services in an effort to save money in a cash-strapped state.
According to financial reports the MEA filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, the union had contracts with six companies during the 2012-2013 period. During that time, records show that the MEA paid between $5,500 and $86,112 to the companies.
According to Michigan Capitol Confidential, Michael LaFaive of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy said of the controversy, "It is good to see that the Michigan Education Association remains a champion of competitive contracting — at least at their headquarters.” He added, "This is a useful management technique that can save money and improve services. Unfortunately, the MEA has long opposed the practice in districts with whom they bargain. Such hypocrisy is rank, but it doesn't seem to bother this old industrial union of janitors, bus drivers, food service workers and teachers."
In a statement on its own website, the MEA explained its opposition to the hiring of private contractors by school districts, despite its own contrary practice:
"The appeal of privatization is based on the flawed economic assumption that private companies can provide the same services as public school employers at lower costs. Theoretically, a good contract with a private firm could provide the same services with the same quality, responsiveness and accountability as an in-house operation. The problem is that to achieve this, a private contractor is very likely to charge more than it costs to provide the service in-house. Private contractors need to earn profits, finance corporate overhead and pay taxes. These factors drive the cost of the contract up and/or the quality and quantity of the service down. Time after time, districts that try to save money by hiring private contractors end up with inferior service, higher costs or both."
At the most recent annual conference of the MEA-sponsored Statewide Anti-Privatization Committee, one of the sessions on “fighting privatization” was described. "Come learn how to recognize the threat of Privatization,” read part of the description, “how to fight privatization battles, defending members’ careers, and steps to take in protecting your own local."
Unionized teachers opposed the proliferation of charter schools, for example, in Michigan since private-industry alternatives do not have union representation for their teachers. According to the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, there are currently 232 charter schools in Michigan that serve over 100,000 students statewide. Many of these schools are found in challenging urban environments, such as Detroit and Flint, where declining population and tax revenues are stretching thin the budgets of local governments and public schools. Charter schools, as do public schools, receive public funds. In 2013, thirteen charter schools opened in the state.
Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.