Who’s (Really) Your Buddy?

A refresher for tomorrow: when you vote, keep in mind who’s responsible for the current state of your profession.


PDB BoxMEA members vote in great numbers and are Democrats, Republicans and independents. But they can be convinced, sometimes by differences on social questions (hello, wedge issue!), to vote in a way that hurts public schools and their union.

Below is a record of the votes on issues that effect public schools and especially public sector unions. They are a major part of a long-term, concerted effort to weaken and eventually do away with unions. This would clear the way for corporations to cash in on the $14 billion spent every year on Michigan  public schools.

You be the judge, who’s (really) your buddy?

We suggest you download the PDF version of this document and share it widely, so that MEA members, and everyone else, can know who they’re really voting for.

Buddy 1Buddy2

View original post

The Truth About Pension “Reform”

The DeVos family is at it again – Amway billionaires plan public pension attackpdf-version

Amway President Doug DeVos recently announced a plan to move Michigan public employees to a 401(k) style defined contribution retirement plan. He labeled his proposed elimination of public employees’ defined benefit pension plans as the No. 1 priority of his West Michigan Policy Forum, adding “It sends a message to all of our elected officials. We take these votes very seriously.”

The DeVos family contributed nearly $1.5 million to Republican legislative candidates in the August primary—which is a down payment on the votes needed to gut school employee and municipal government employee pensions.

Visit  Michigan Campaign Finance Network’s Donor Tracking   to see how much the DeVos family has given to your legislator.

The pension system is not broken

Ten years ago, the Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System (MPSERS) was fully funded. Now we have an unfunded liability (which has been improving) as the result of the devastating economic downturn of 2008, combined with decisions made in Lansing to balance the budget with unrealistic projected rates of return. Like any investment, it simply needs time to rebound — and is on track to do so.

Recent changes have dramatically increased employee contributions into MPSERS. PA 300 of 2012 placed school employees hired after its effective date into a “hybrid” system, combining elements of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. It also eliminated retirement healthcare benefits for new hires. The savings to the state stemming from this change will not be fully realized for several years. As with any investment, if left alone the system will heal itself.

The hybrid system is fully funded. Why would we eliminate a system that’s working?

Pensions provide important economic benefits

45% of public school employees receive a pension of less than $14,500 per year. Pension income is spent in Michigan and supports more than 77,000 Michigan jobs and $11.1 billion in economic output in Michigan.


A pension system distributes both the risk and reward evenly – vs. the winners/losers system of the 401(k). We don’t need a competitive system that creates winners at the expense of others; we need retirement security for all.

Numerous studies have shown that, in addition to being much less secure than a traditional pension, any savings to the state for making such a change would not be realized for more than 30 years – and the immediate cost to close MPSERS would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

Hedge fund managers and other Wall Street corporations are the real winners in eliminating traditional pension plans and moving money to their 401(k)’s. Why would a billionaire attack public employee pensions?


Pension Attack: What Is The MEA Doing? And What You Should Do.

In the past few weeks, rumors have been confirmed that an attack on our pensions pdf-versionis being planned for this fall. The form of this attack is likely to be an attempt to remove new school employees from the pension system, which will cause the system’s under-funding to skyrocket, leading to its inevitable failure.

The attack on MPSERS is expected to occur in the next legislative lame duck session. This is the period after an election and before the new legislature is seated in January, a time period when a significant number of legislators are still in power even though they have been term-limited or were just defeated at the polls. Lame duck sessions are marked by threats and deal-making by the party in power during late-night sessions with a deadline looming. The 2012 Right to Work bill was forced through during such a lame duck session.

What Is The MEA Doing?
MEA staff has raised awareness of this and other attacks through in-person presentations across the state, in schools, field offices and conferences, to both active members and retirees.

MEA lobbyists spent the summer meeting with Republican legislators to track down these rumors and to educate them on the facts about MPSERS. The only legislators who knew these “reforms” were being planned were in a very small group of Republican leaders and DeVos legislators.  This information void represented an opportunity to influence other Republican legislators.

MEA is also working with a coalition to oppose the legislation that includes labor and school management as well as local government groups who are also under attack, and is beginning a program to connect member constituents with Republican legislators it identifies as persuadable on this issue. (More on this program below.)

MEA is preparing for lame duck but can only succeed if the groundwork is in place. This is a political attack. It calls for a political response. Convincing persuadable legislators often requires focusing their attention on how their voting constituents feel. Which is where MEA members come in…

What Should You Do?

Stay Informed
Track MEAMatters.com, ‘like’ it on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.

Subscribe to Capitol Comments, the MEA Communications e-newsletter that gives on-the-fly updates of legislative action.  Updates are written literally as the legislative action occurs by MEA lobbyists in the Capitol. There is no better or more immediate source for what is happening in the legislature.

At some point, an MEA lobbyist will issue a call for help through Capitol Comments, which will include an issue update and suggested language. You can email legislator offices, write letters to newspapers, and even text legislators during session.

Legislators actually count calls for and against every issue: their livelihood literally depends on how their constituents react to the job they do. Engaging them on matters you care deeply about can have a major effect: MEA email storms are well-known in the House and Senate.

Spread the Word
Talk to your colleagues and take a firm stand. Print Who’s (Really) Your Buddy and ask your coworkers whether their candidate is really looking out for their future. If you operate a local association blog or website, re-post MEAMatters articles. Use material from MEAMatters in your newsletters (no need to ask for permission).  Download PDF versions of the articles (available on most pages) and hand them out. Get active.

Engage the Media
MEA members are uniquely qualified to discuss what is really going on in public schools, as opposed to a ‘scholar’ in a Midland think tank who hasn’t been in a public school since he gave up substitute teaching.

When you read a softball reference from the Mackinac Center in a newspaper, or one that quotes its statistics promising the failure of MPSERS, write a respectful email to the reporter and suggest he or she look into who funds the Mackinac Center and how that drives their policy solutions, including its long-term campaign to kill off pensions.


Post responses to the internet versions of these stories. Don’t let a “we don’t have pensions so why should teachers?” comment go unchallenged.

Material for these responses can be had by using the search box on any page of MEAMatters. Just type in the subject of the article and flip through the articles that mention the issue. Updated messaging points on the pension attack will be available in the coming weeks through Capitol Comments and MEAMatters.

Track Legislation
Fpicture1ollow the legislature with MEA’s Bill Tracker and MEA lobbyist Dr. Dave Michelson’s Twitter account. The Bill Tracker gives current status of significant legislation affecting public schools and whether MEA supports it. Dr. Michelson’s updates are followed by legislators on both sides of the aisle and give up-to-the-minute updates on legislative action.

Engage the Legislature
Members and retirees who live in a district with a Republican Representative or Senator are in a special place in this debate. They need to reach out and have an informative conversation with these legislators and ask them their position on MPSERS reform.  MEA will issue a short MPSERS information sheet for reference within days.   Coffee hours held in the legislative district and office hours in district offices are particularly good opportunities for these conversations. Check the House and Senate Republican websites for times and places.


Contact chcanfield@MEA.org to report back on what you learned.

After his first campaign, Rick Snyder received 40% of MEA member’s votes. When he ran for reelection, he got just 20%. When MEA members learn who supports them and who doesn’t, they vote accordingly, so don’t hesitate to spread the word. Download Who’s (Really) Your Buddy and show it to your colleagues. Make the case that the survival of the MEA is directly related to the survival of public schools.

Give to PAC in your building. The sorry fact is that money talks in politics. But even relatively small contributions add up in an organization with 120,000 members.

We’ll never outspend our opponents but we have strength in numbers (which is why we’ve under attack). So volunteer for a campaign, knock doors, stuff envelopes.

If you’re not registered to vote, get registered. Follow the link at the bottom of this page.

And vote like your future depends on it. Because it does.

Devos to Legislature: Time to End School Pensions

The Mackinac Center has pushed for years to shut down the state pension system, but pressure has been building. Giving substance to rumors of a push during the next lame duck session, Amway President Doug DeVos announced to attendees at the West Michigan Policy Forum that ending public employees’ pension benefits is the No. 1 public policy priority.pdf-version

Killing pensions and replacing them with 401k-type plans allows investment firms to make billions managing them. Central to this plan is the need to convince the public that the cost of these pension plans is bankrupting cities and states.

This is a nation-wide attack, led by Enron billionaire Tom Arnold, whose Arnold Foundation is flooding right wing think tanks across the nation with funding to do this work. The Enron meltdown cost public pension funds $1.5 billion in losses.

Ramping up for this attack, the Center has published 179 pension articles so far this year, most focusing on the system’s underfunding and always recommending only one solution: privatization. Little attention is paid to the cause of this underfunding (the 2007 stock market crash and its very slow recovery). Only “the sky is falling” prose followed by the usual business-enriching recommendations.

pension-2016A Republican bill package (HB 5218 and SB 102) would do this by converting your pension to a 401k-style retirement plan. That means the only thing that is certain about your retirement is that some unknown amount of money would be invested every pay period. What’s left when you retire depends entirely what happens in the stock market.

Writing about this, Mackinac Center staffer Anne Schieber said:

In a defined-contribution plan, government would be forced to place those retirement payments immediately into an account that was owned by the employee. Employees and taxpayers would no longer have to cross their fingers that retirement funds will be there in the future.

Never one to let the truth get in the way, Schieber fails to state the obvious: pensions are much more dependable to retirees than 401k plans. If you want to worry about whether you can retire on a specific date, invest your entire retirement in the stock market.

The most likely form these bills will take is to force only new employees into defined contribution plans. That would clearly be only a first step, the Mackinac Center would follow through on closing the pension system whenever it can summon the votes.

But this first step serves their ultimate goal: when fewer and fewer employees pay into the system the underfunding grows every year, followed by the inevitable cries to close the entire system.

Converting the state pension system into a defined contribution system is not a new idea. Shifting all the risk to employees has been the objective since Governor Snyder took office in 2011. Within months, he had begun work, starting with new hires in local government, as well as state employees. In 2012 he moved on to school employees.

But there was a problem, a big problem. Thanks to years of underfunding; the 2008 economic crises and its slow recovery; and the growth of on-line and charter schools resulting in fewer and fewer people paying into the system (not an accidental result); the MPSERS unfunded liability has grown.

Again, this is a good thing if you’re trying to privatize the whole thing: As MIT Professor Noam Chomsky said:

That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, and hand it over to private capital.

Years ago, the legislature hired an outside consulting firm, The Segal Group, to:

… evaluate the existing Hybrid plan and the impact of implementing a defined contribution plan for all new hires.

The results were not pretty. Segal found:


The Mackinac Center has to move quickly. As the economy recovers and the stock market with it, the MPSERS unfunded liability crisis will begin to subside, and with it, the sky-is-falling need to convert.

Read the entire study yourself:


Ignore Trump! Pokemon Go Proves Government is Inept!

MO.gifIt’s the middle of the summer, your party is headed by a jingoistic reality TV star, so it’s hard to come up with a way to take a shot at the opposition without being overtly political. But after some no doubt extended brainstorming, Mackinac Center VP John Mozena (“a long-time advocate for free markets and liberty”) managed to come up with a way to spin Pokémon Go into a criticism of the Obamas.

Under the bizarre title “Imaginary Murder Pets Versus Michelle Obama” which sounds like a piece that was written over a few beers in the backyard, Mozena celebrates the private sector’s victory in getting kids to walk around staring at their phones. Getting them to do it more, apparently.

This is proof that free markets are working (“It’s super effective!”) because playing with phone apps outside is exercise. This from the people who told us ketchup is a vegetable.

And the proof that the government doesn’t work? A White House press release from six years ago pushing kids to exercise more, which he says announced a “massive public-private-nonprofit campaign.” Anyone remember that massive campaign?

The Mackinac Center and its ilk are as worried about Trump as the rest of us, but for a different reason. Corporate-funded think tanks across the country, as well as their  billionaire funders oppose Trump because they know they can’t control him. This disconnect, and the funding problem for the Republicans that follows, largely explains the selection of long-term Koch brothers favorite, Mike Pence, as the party’s VP nominee.

Which will fix everything, so long as they can control his urge to talk about Saddam sending anthrax to Congress or Disney producing “Mulan” as a liberal plot to get women into combat.

But probably more importantly, in 2011, then-congressional candidate Pence hired  ALEC Director of Tax & Fiscal Policy as his campaign policy director. That should go a long way to settle the Mackinac Center’s nerves.

Pence ALEC

Making Detroit the Next New Orleans: Wall to Wall Charter Schools

Not that facts seem to matter these days, but a new study from MSU’s Education Policy Center, Which Districts Get Into Financial Trouble and Why: Michigan’s Story, determined that school districts in Michigan get into financial trouble because of factors they can’t control.  It found that neither privatization nor school spending on retirement had any effect on a school district’s fiscal health:

Whatever the merits of these strategies as emergency measures for [a] district in fiscal distress, our results fail to indicate that they are systematically related to districts’ fiscal health as measured by their fund balances.

What actually matters is race. Districts with mostly black students are in trouble financially, because:

Districts with high concentrations of African American students are much more likely to be subject to intense charter school penetration, to lose students to inter-district choice, and to have higher concentrations of students with disabilities.

This explains the Devos-fueled directive to exempt Detroit charter schools from oversight. Ever-more charters will completely cripple DPS finances, followed by the inevitable solution: a New Orleans-style district-wide conversion to charter schools. All operated by the charter industry.

Expect outrage about this study by the Mackinac Center, even though the authors source the Center’s School Privatization Primer, its most recent Michigan School Privatization Survey, as well as its Employee Salaries and Benefits.  A Collective Bargaining Primer for Michigan School Board Members.

One of the study authors was quoted in a recent issue of the legislative newsletter Gongwer:

Michigan has focused on policies to mostly reprimand school districts in trouble with their fund balances, assuming the problem is attributed to poor decision-making by local leaders,” David Arsen, professor of education policy and one of the authors of the study, said. “In terms of local spending, some decisions matter but overall the impact is small. What does matter are changes in the school district’s per-pupil foundation allowance and their enrollment, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent.

The study also finds that no matter what the Mackinac Center says, school funding is down:unfund.jpg

Over a span of 11 years, Michigan’s central city districts on average lost a third of their enrollment, producing an average decline of 21.6 percent in total foundation revenue, or a striking 46.5 percent revenue decline in real terms. Suburban districts … also lost funds in real terms, but not as drastically because many also saw some enrollment increases during the period.

This, or course, is the lasting effect of the $1 billion cut in public education Gov. Snyder and the legislature imposed in 2010, which helped to fund a $2 billion reduction in corporate taxes.

On second thought, facts do matter to this Republican legislature. They know full well that charter schools and school choice starves public schools. That’s the whole idea. Programmed failure with a corporate solution at the ready.

Here’s What Happens When the Mackinac Center Gets Help Ending Pensions

Pension2.jpgJust days after asking for help in killing off school staff pensions, the Mackinac Center has published its hit piece. Predictably, it makes the exact points Mackinac analyst Skorup hoped it would before he got any responses. As his mass email stated, his story would be about “underfunding, how long it takes people to be eligible for benefits, and whether legislators will properly fund retirements.”

The story presents a litany of arguments against the current pension system and not a single point in its favor. Balance is not something you should expect from the Mackinac Center. Neither is honesty.

Quoting a misinformed elementary teacher from Athens, the Center leaves in place the lie that pension benefits pass only to surviving spouses. After stating that the teacher “opted out of the pension system so that she could have something to leave to her family,” she’s quoted:

“I’m not married and I found out that if something happens to me, [my pensions] would go back into the system.”

According to the Office of Retirement Services, pension benefits can be paid to “your surviving spouse, your child or adopted child, your grandchild, or your parent, brother or sister.”

After countless appearances of “underfunded” Skorup moves on to mention the Detroit bankruptcy, and then, without any sense of irony, assures readers that two current legislative bills, HB 5218 ad SB 102, would  “protect current employees and retirees,” when in fact, the purpose of the bills is to shift all the retirement investment risk from the state to retirees.

The article makes repeated allegations that pensions are undependable (largely because of Republican assaults), but fails to mention that school employee pensions are protected by the Michigan Constitution.

Ignored as well, or course, is the reality that those who fully invest their retirement in the stock market through a 401k would be completely dependent on the state of the economy from the day they retire until the day they die. Just a few years ago, they would have had to reconsider their plans had they  been planning on retiring in 2008, or 2009, or…

The Center’s crocodile tears about underfunding is particularly irritating given that the Mackinac Center’s own policy goals, ever-more charter and on-line schools as well as privatization, are largely responsible for this problem, thanks to the fewer and fewer people paying into the retirement system while working.

In the exact same fashion, by removing all future state employees from the system, the bills would guarantee that the underfunding problem Skorup obsesses over will skyrocket, due to an accelerated drop in the number of people paying into it.

Which will make closing the system, the Mackinac Center’s ultimate goal, unavoidable.

Who’s (Really) Your Buddy?

PDB BoxMEA members vote in great numbers and are Democrats, Republicans and independents. But they can be convinced, sometimes by differences on social questions (hello, wedge issue!), to vote in a way that hurts public schools and their union.

Below is a record of the votes on issues that effect public schools and especially public sector unions. They are a major part of a long-term, concerted effort to weaken and eventually do away with unions. This would clear the way for corporations to cash in on the $14 billion spent every year on Michigan  public schools.

You be the judge, who’s (really) your buddy?

We suggest you download the PDF version of this document and share it widely, so that MEA members, and everyone else, can know who they’re really voting for.

Buddy 1Buddy2

Mackinac Center Asks Members to Help End Pensions 

Years into the long-term project to close the state’s pension system, the Mackinac Center has gotten so desperate it is trying to get help from the very people it’s hoping to hurt: MEA members.

A recent mass emailing to MEA members, Center staffer  Jarett Skorup writes an innocuous message sounding like a reporter digging for facts:

Skorup Spam.jpg

He is instead a right wing operative hoping to trick these folks into helping them kill other people’s pensions. Which is not a stretch: the Mackinac Center has year after year made closing the state pension system a priority in order to replace it with a plan where all of the risk falls on the employees. They’re looking for help crafting a message that will result in fewer people paying into the MPSERS pension system. A change that will increase the system’s underfunding.Focus1

The Center has done this before. When their “please quit the union in August” campaign failed to get as many opt outs as they hoped, they tried to organize focus groups of members who stuck with their union to help them frame a better message. And to sweeten the deal, the Center also offered to buy them dinner and give them $50.

“Here’s dinner and 50 bucks to help us make you weaker.”

This time, it’s the same sort of deception:

As background, we’ve been concerned about problems with the state pension system related to underfunding, how long it takes people to be eligible for benefits, and whether legislators will properly fund retirements.

Right. The Mackinac Center thinks it takes too long to be eligible for benefits. And they’re bothered legislators haven’t properly funded retirements.

It’s the usual double-talk half truth you’d expect from a politician. They think you should be immediately eligible for benefits because they want to kill your pension and force you into a 401k plan instead. And they want legislators out of the retirement funding business all together.

This isn’t a reporter collecting facts; its a political operative gathering ammunition.

None of this is an accident. The Mackinac Center spent years undermining the pension system with this result in mind. In 1997, they succeeded in getting the state pension system closed to new enrollees. It was fully funded at the time.

Since then, with fewer and fewretireer paying into it, it has become more and more underfunded. Add to that ever more charter and on-line schools (thanks to Mackinac Center pressure), neither of which pay into MPSERS, and the underfunding grows.

This means that after years of Mackinac-inspired changes to the pensions system, changes that have all served to increase underfunding, the Center is asking members to help craft a message designed to underfund MPSERS even more.

So now, the Mackinac Center solution to this sudden underfunding problem (“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here”), is to shift all the risk to the employees and close the state pension system.

Which will make our schools more like the private sector. Which has fewer unions. Which is the whole point.

The Mackinac Center Prays for More Sickouts

Since the fierce Republican reaction to the Detroit sickout, the word from Lansing is that if any more of this kind of thing happens elsewhere in the state, the legislature will repeal PERA.

PERA, the Public Employee Relations Act, is the statute that makes collective bargaining mandatory in Michigan. This has always been a Mackinac Center target as it puts the administration and its employees on equal footing. Without it, bargaining would be permissive, and the other side could just tell you to take a hike.

What would happen if PERA were repealed and bargaining was no longer mandatory? Look to Texas, where staffers can’t bargain, they are only allowed to engage in what’s charitably called “Meet and Confer.” From a Texas school district website:

Meet Confer

The same kind of sham input is going on in Wisconsin. After Republican Governor Scott Walker pushed through a law banning bargaining in 2011, school staff get just 5 minutes to plead for better healthcare:


This is how it works in many states. In six states, collective bargaining is illegal, the law actually prohibits it. In 11 states, it’s permissive, meaning the employees want to but, in all but a very few cases, management refuses. In the rest of the country both sides have to bargain:

Bargaining States.jpg

The Mackinac Center has been pushing for the repeal of PERA for years. It knows that losing the right to bargain guts the very heart of what it is to be a union, and when it’s lost, union membership nosedives.


Which is the whole point. With the MEA out of the way, the field would be clear to turning the public schools over to the corporations.