State Journal: Union feuding over opting out

October 30, 1991 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Caught in the middle of a bitter feud between the state’s two teachers’ unions, the Michigan legislature has come down on the side that was able to mobilize more lobbying clout.

Faced with a decision on school-employee pensions, lawmakers recently picked a plan backed by the 120,000-member Michigan Education Association plan over one proposed by the 24,000-member Michigan Federation of Teachers, which also had the support of the state A.F.L.-C.I.O.

The state school-employee pension system had been thrown into financial peril this spring, when the U.S. Internal Revenue Service faulted a provision that allowed workers to “opt out” of a second, and higher, tier of pension benefits after three years and then collect their out-of-pocket contributions--3.9 percent of gross pay--in six months.

If the system was not brought into compliance, Michigan could have been forced to pay $1.5 billion to the I.R.S.

Alarmed, lawmakers and labor lobbyists went to work to amend the pension law. While committed to keeping the three-year opt-out provision, most lobbyists were willing to satisfy the I.R.S. by requiring workers to wait until they retired, left their jobs, became disabled, or died before getting their money.

But the M.E.A. balked, preferring a mandatory second-tier pension system.

Under the M.E.A.-backed plan, employees would be vested after 10 years, at which time they would gain the right to take their own contributions, as well as those of the district and state, when they left or retired. If they stayed less than 10 years, however, they would forfeit the district and state shares.

The House retirement panel voted 6 to 4 for the opt-out plan. But the M.E.A. plan prevailed on the House floor by a 58-to41 vote.

“I have never seen such a lobbying effort,” Eleanor Dillon, legislative coordinator for the M.F.T., said of the rival union. Along with its own lobbyists, she said, the M.E.A. employed outside firms to lobby.

Ms. Dillon contended that dropping the opt-out provision was unfair to bus drivers and other school workers who might not be able to afford the required contributions. ‘We represent a lot of the working poor,” said Ms. Dillon.

But M.E.A. officials said their lobbying efforts were nothing out of the ordinary, and maintained that they had offered a variety of compromises that the M.F.T. had refused.

The M.E.A. wanted to make sure that the legislature did not jeopardize the pension system, said Allan Short, the union’s director of government affairs.

‘We represent the same kind of people they do,” he said. --K.D.

A version of this article appeared in the October 30, 1991 edition of Education Week as State Journal: Union feuding over opting out


English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Education Civil Rights Groups Sue Tennessee Over Law Against Transgender Student Athletes
The state law bars transgender athletes from playing public high school or middle school sports aligned with their gender identity.
3 min read
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Mark Humphrey/AP