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FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR

Follow the Money: What the Wisconsin Education Association Isn’t Talking About

As Americans, we’re often taught that trusts and monopolies are the product of big business and are bad. However, if trusts and monopolies are bad when Big Business engages in monopolistic ways, why isn’t it bad when Big Labor engages in the same sort of behaviors that are condemned when committed by Big Business?

For over a week now, the nation has watched tens of thousands march in protest to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s budget plan. Democrat lawmakers (aka Fleebaggers) have fled the state in order to avoid doing their duty, while Obama’s OFA has bussed in the astroturf from out of state. While the union meme has been that Walker’s plan is “union-busting,” perhaps a more apt description would be “trust-busting.”

One of the most vocal opponents of Scott Walker’s budget plan has been the Wisconsin Education Association Council [WEAC]. As a union affiliated with the NEA, WEAC (according to its website) represents 98,000 “educators” in the State of Wisconsin.

Like any union, WEAC has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo when it comes to forced dues from Wisconsin school teachers, as well as automatic dues deduction from teachers’ paychecks—both of which would be eliminated under Walker’s proposal.

Employers will be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units will not be required to pay dues.

In essence, Walker’s proposal threatens the life blood of the WEAC which, according to its most recent financial report on file (FY 2009), raked in over $25 million from teachers in a one year period.

Another threat to WEAC, which no one in the mainstream media is talking about is the threat to the union’s insurance trust, called WEA Trust. The WEA Trust is, in essence, a union-run “multi-employer” health insurance trust (the employers, in this case, are school districts).

The way it works is that WEAC has, through collective bargaining (negotiations), convinced school districts to pay into the WEA Trust and, in turn, the WEA Trust is responsible for administering teachers’ benefits. According to PublicSchoolSpending.com, Walker’s proposal would give school boards the ability to shop freely for more competitive insurance rates and save the state millions.

Last year, the Education Action Group issued a report which stated, among other things, that:

WEA Trust, an insurance company established and closely associated with the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), siphons millions of crucial dollars from K-12 schools and their students every year.

WEA Trust has grown very fat on public school dollars, with a net worth of $316 million and a team of 12 administrators all receiving compensation packages worth six figures per year.

Sadly, this insurance swindle is endorsed by state law.

The group’s Communications Director, Steve Gunn, explains:

The pressure derives from state law, which makes the identity of a school’s health insurance carrier a topic of collective bargaining between local unions and school boards. That allows union representatives to come to the table demanding expensive WEA Trust coverage, and frequently school boards give in.

[snip]

Once school districts sign up for WEA Trust coverage, and write the carrier into collective bargaining agreements, the shackles are on. And they aren’t easily removed.

Local unions often refuse to have the provision stricken from school labor contracts in subsequent negotiations. If a school board presses the issue in an effort to save money, WEAC will frequently take the case to arbitration.

The Trust’s business practices also complicate the problem.

Districts need employee claim histories to provide to potential bidders, but WEA Trust sometimes refuses to surrender the information, making it more difficult, if not impossible, for competitors to draft an accurate insurance estimate.

WEA Trust also reportedly threatens districts with higher premiums – by removing them from regional insurance pools with lower rates – if they consider a cheaper carrier.

Some districts have managed to break WEA Trust’s shackles and the savings tell the story. Officials from 15 districts recently told EAG that they saved six figures the first year under new coverage, while still providing quality health benefits for employees. They also say the cost of their new coverage has remained steady in subsequent years.

But there is a catch. Officials at all of the breakaway districts said they had to surrender, or at least share, the insurance savings with their local unions, generally in the form of salary increases. That left them with little or no extra revenue to cover other costs.

In other words, WEAC, the union that has been most vocal during the last week’s protests has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  If the union can defeat Scott Walker’s reform plans, not only does it keep the union dues of teachers, it also gets to keep its health insurance monopoly intact.

Of course, you’re not hearing this in the press as it doesn’t fit the convenient narrative of class warfare. So, the next time you have someone tell you how “mean” Scott Walker is for attacking the teachers’ union, you can simply reply: Follow the money.

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“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776

[Photo credit: Vaxomatic]

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