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The Lakeland Times | Minocqua, Wisc.

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May 25, 2018

7/1/2011 7:15:00 AM
Members chipped in $23.4 million to WEAC in 2008 union dues
Dues pay exorbitant union salaries; WEAC awarded just $18,850 in scholarships out of $24 million budget
Mary Bell, WEAC president
Mary Bell, WEAC president

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

News Analysis

With the practice of paying forced union dues soon to become a relic of the past for many public employees, officials of the Wisconsin Education Association Council have reportedly contacted members in a bid to convince them to continue paying up through automatic bank withdrawals.

That's not surprising because the revenue stream the state's largest teachers' union is trying to protect is substantial. In fact, the organization collected more than $23.4 million in membership dues in fiscal year 2009 from its approximately 98,000 members.

The numbers are included on WEAC's IRS forms for the year. Fiscal year 2009 was the latest filing available. The state's new collective bargaining law that took effect this week will end mandatory dues payments and government collection of dues for many public employees immediately and for most of the rest when current contracts expire.

According to IRS documents, the union mustered membership dues of $23,458,810 in fiscal year 2009. National Education Association revenue totaled another $1,419,819, while all revenues totaled $25,480,973, including investment income of $367,482.

The whole truth

That's big business, anyway you look at it, but the money streaming to the state union doesn't tell the whole story for rank-and-file members.

In addition to the $295.01 in annual dues that full-time teachers shell out to the state unit, full-time professional members pay $19.99 to the WEAC political action committee for political campaigns and lobbying, as well as local union dues and $166 to the National Education Association.

Contributions to WEAC and the NEA thus cost every full-time teacher $461 a year, while total dues can swell to more than $750 a year per teacher.

For example, in the Lakeland area, teachers from Lakeland Union High School, MHLT, AV-W, North Lakeland, and Lac du Flambeau chipped in union dues totaling $191,746 for the 2010-11 year.

According to Rich Vought, the superintendent at North Lakeland, teachers pay $759 per person there, for a total of $15,180. At AV-W, teachers paid $40,194.40.

For the 2010-11 school year, the local teachers' association at LUHS will pay a total of $50,611.59 to their union, says district administrator Todd Kleinhans.

He said a full-time teacher will pay $783 while dues for part-time teachers are pro-rated. 

MHLT teachers will pay a total of $38,832 in union dues - $15,120 goes directly to WEAC - while the lump sum annual amount Lac du Flambeau teachers paid in 2010-11 was $46,928.

Union dues are collected from employee paychecks and a monthly check is cut from the district to the local union and sent to the Northern Tier UniServe office in Rhinelander on behalf of the union, Kleinhans said in an email. 

Because teachers are paid their salaries over a 12-month period, union dues are sent for any particular school year beginning in September and continuing through August, he added. 

Meeting in uncertain times this past May, the WEAC Representative Assembly voted at its annual meeting to temporarily freeze state dues.

Teachers employed more than half-time will pay $295.01 to the state unit, while those employed between 26 percent and 50 percent of the time pay $147.51 and those working less than 26 percent of the time pay $73.75.

Education support professionals pay half the dues teachers pay.

At that assembly, the organization adopted a strategy of flexibility that officers say will allow the union's governing body to amend the budget and respond to changing political winds, but WEAC president Mary Bell promised in a written statement after the assembly to employ the union's vast resources, including its staff, to right the tilting ship in this summer's recall elections.

"This strategy also supports the views expressed by several delegates that WEAC staff is key to supporting our union as we fight the attacks on public education and work to restore a balance of power through upcoming recall elections," she wrote. "It's clear that the Governor's attack on unions will undoubtedly impact our organization. It's clear his extreme budget will hurt students and schools. But it's equally clear from the passion displayed by RA delegates that engagement in our union has never been stronger."

High staff pay

Contrary to public perception, the $23.4 million in union membership dues paid to WEAC do not end up in the campaign coffers of political candidates. That latter money comes from member contributions to the political action committee, a deduction that, though separate, is nonetheless part of the total dues package.

As it turns out, most of the membership dues go to pay the organization's salaries and benefits, some of which are quite extravagant.

For example, according to its 2009 fiscal year IRS form, the organization employed 151 people and paid them $14,382,812. That's an average compensation total of $95,250 per employee.

But high-ranking union officials were doing much better than that. For instance, Dan Burkhalter, WEAC executive director, was raking in $242,807, with $177,366 in wages; government relations director Robert Burke hauled in $189,505, with wages of $128,428; information and communications technology director Nathan Harper made $189,528, with wages of $129,221; financial and membership services director Jane Oberdorf made $188,164, with wages of $131,328; affiliate relations director Robert Baxter was paid $186,461, with wages of $127,774; and collective bargaining director Daniel Holub made $165,112, with wages of $110,534.

And what about WEAC president Mary Bell, the union's public persona, who describes herself as a teacher from Wisconsin Rapids? She made $173,466, with wages of $138,031. That's on par with Gov. Scott Walker's salary of $144,423.

All totaled, those seven employees collected $1,335,043, with wages of $942,682.

Beyond wages and salaries, WEAC paid $801,105 in legal expenses, another $59,357 in accounting costs, and $1,395,381 in office expenses. The group traveled heavily as well, spending $1,835,207 on travel expenses and $185,398 in conferences, conventions and meetings.

It spent $2,827,270 on "other fees for services."

What's more, the organization doled out generous operating assistance grants totaling $1,274,050 to various local unions and its regional offices, known as UniServes, including $351,680 to Northern Tier UniServe in Rhinelander.

WEAC awarded scholarships that year, too, but the amount paled in comparison to other outlays. The union awarded just $18,850 in scholarships, or less than 1/1000 of the organization's total functional budget.

The politics of it all

Of course, in the end, the end game is politics, and that's where the political action committee comes in.

As a nonprofit, WEAC cannot directly spend its members' dues on political activity - that's where the PAC contributions come in - but critics say unions still manage to directly divert resources into political campaigns, despite the prohibition.

For example, unions routinely assign staff to carry out implicit political duties for various candidates, effectively converting them into campaign staff. Indeed, in her statement last May, Bell herself said union staff was "key" as the union worked "to restore a balance of power through upcoming recall elections."

What's more, membership dues can be used to mobilize "nonpartisan" voter registration efforts and get-out-the-vote campaigns and can fund so-called political "education" efforts among union members.

But WEAC PAC plays an important role as well. Its revenues are hardly insubstantial, if hard to pin down. A safe estimate is that WEAC members contribute in the neighborhood of $1.5 million a year through dues deductions.

While it's hard to know how many of the union's 98,000 members contribute the full-time $19.99 or the part-time $10 union deduction, the union's overall dues' collections are instructive. In sum, the $23.4 million WEAC collected from its members represented about 80 percent of the total the union would have collected had all members paid the full-time professional rate.

Using that yardstick, the union would have collected about $1.56 million in PAC contributions through dues deductions for 2009. The union's campaign finance report for 2010 offers up similar numbers. According to that report, PAC contributions from individuals totaled $1,462,824.24 for the year, virtually all of them unitemized.

That suggests these are union dues, which, because PAC dues are set at less than $20 - the cut off for itemization - do not have to be itemized on the reports.

WEAC puts those resources to heavy use. According to its campaign finance report, the organization spent $2.4 million during 2010. The union spent $1.57 million trying to defend four Democratic senators and protect the Democratic majority in the state Senate. They all lost.

According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, WEAC is among the largest direct contributor to candidates but also spends substantial sums on independent expenditures and issue ads.

"WEAC spent over $2 million in the 2008 fall general election and over half a million dollars in the 2009 Supreme Court election," the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign stated in an October 2010 analysis of the group's political spending. "They ran radio ads in support of state Senator Spencer Coggs in the Democratic Primary for Lt. Governor this fall. They have reported interest in ad campaigns in the general election in most legislative and statewide races, including support for Lt. Governor Democratic Primary winner, Tom Nelson." 

The future

So what will happen when teachers and other education support professionals are no longer required to pay union dues? Will they agree to pay membership dues? Will they continue to support WEAC's political action committee with contributions?

There are several clues.

One is the number of political refunds members now request. Unlike membership dues, the contributions to the PAC are not mandatory.

In 1988, in Communications Workers of America v. Beck, the Supreme Court determined that unions could not require non-union employees in closed shops (workplaces where union dues are required even if workers do not join the union) to pay full dues if some of those funds were used for activities not related to contract negotiations, such as as lobbying and political activities, if the non-member workers objected.

Then, in 1991, in Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association, the court broadened the 1988 decision to include public sector employees. In that decision, the high court said public employee unions could not force government workers to subsidize political activities.

However, the catch for the dissenting workers is, those decisions did not prevent unions from deducting the political contributions from public workers' paychecks along with their membership dues so long as they returned them if the worker requested it.

In other words, rather than the worker opting into making a monthly political contribution, the contribution was automatically deducted, and the contributor had to actively seek a refund of it. That serves to reduce the number of employees who actually seek refunds.

Nonetheless, according to WEAC's January 2011 filing with the Government Accountability Board, the union paid out $63,421.96 in unitemized PAC refunds last year, which would total about 2.5 percent of its membership requesting refunds.

How much such a refusal to contribute might grow under the new law remains to be seen, as does the number who will refuse to pay membership dues. Again, though, the experience of others is instructive.

After Gov. Mitch Daniels restricted collective bargaining in Indiana in 2005, the number of dues-paying state workers plummeted from 66 percent to 5 percent. In 2007, when New York City's Transit Authority stopped collecting dues for the Transport Workers Union, dues nosedived by 35 percent within 18 months.

While it is far too early to know what WEAC members will do, one fact is most certain: WEAC officials will leave nothing to chance, as evidenced by their recent campaign to sign up members even before the law became effective.

Richard Moore may be reached at rmmoore1@frontier.com.

Related Stories:
• National union hails Holperin, Senate Democrats as 'heroes'
• State budget wipes away structural deficit ... and lowers taxes
• Supreme Court reinstates collective bargaining curbs

Related Links:
• Wisconsin Education Association Council website
• National Education Association website

Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Article comment by: Ed Munch

A reply to Mike Doud, you ask Richard Moore to be more studious in his reporting endeavors. I think your criticism of his work is uncalled for. He drew from facts and it stands up to the harshest scrutiny. Your post on the other hand is filled with nothing more than the talking points youíve been fed by your union and they donít mean much when you take a look at the facts.

You wrote: Unions are out spent by corporations by huge numbers.
Six of the top 10 PAC based on total expenditures from 2009 and 2010 are Union-controlled. The fallacy in your argument is that corporations/businesses are the biggest contributor in campaigns. Businesses canít contribute to candidates. More than 80% of the money contributed to campaigns since 2000 has come from the individual tax-payer. The remainder has been from PACs.

You wrote: They (unions) are responsible for health care being offered by employers
Itís kind of two-edge sword on this for America. Health care was originally offered to Americanís industrial unions in lieu of salary increases during WWII. During the war, most wages were strictly controlled but Congress provided a loophole into the regulations in that employer-paid fringe benefits like employment-based health insurance were not regulated. After the war, it became a standard demand by all unions in the manufacturing sector and it spread to service employees. During the same time in the 1950s, European countries made health care a national concern and began providing health care on a federal basis to all its citizens. It never happened in the US because it was provided by employers.

You wrote: (Unions demanded a) 5 day work week
No question about it, unions made this happen more than 100 years ago. What has your union or any other done in the last 10 years?

You wrote: They raised the working conditions for all work places
Hardly. Most states like Wisconsin had laws by the turn of the century improving working conditions.

You wrote: They set standards of acceptable work quality.
Not a chance. Quality was driven by the consumer. Unions fight to keep the workload at a level that all employees can achieve. This doesnít add to quality. It adds costs because workers donít achieve higher production numbers. Most scholars refer to this as feather-bedding.

You wrote: They provide an avenue for the employers to communicate with the employees.
Did you ever play that party game where one person whispers a phrase into the ear of another person and it goes around the circle until it gets back to the person who said it? It never comes out the same. Putting more into the conduit of information never makes it more effective. Weíve all seen how unions want to spin news in their favor. Saying unions can communicate more effectively than the employer isnít even close to being true.
You wrote: They help convey suggestions for a more efficient procedure to make whatever is being made in the facility from employee to employer and from employer to employee.
I think youíre going to have to provide us with an example of this being true. Unions have never been in favor of more efficient procedures because that causes a reduction in workforce.

You wrote: Richard Moore should research both sides of a story first before printing it.
Please point out anything in Mr. Mooreís piece thatís in error. In addition, itís not presented as a news story. Itís analysis of the news. Thereís a lot more leeway when writing analysis but Mr. Moore didnít veer from the path of a news story. His piece is built solidly on the facts.

You wrote: Unions are responsible for creating the middle class.
Henry Ford is more responsible for creating the middle class than any other person or group in the U.S. He realized that he needed a larger group of consumers to buy his product than what was currently available. Thatís why he paid his workers $5 a day when the prevailing wage was much less. Other manufacturers, especially those making cars, were forced to follow suit to keep the best employees.

Richard Moore's article is a solid piece of journalism while your post is just empty talking points.

Posted: Friday, July 15, 2011
Article comment by: Bob Dreps

CEO pay increased 23% last year. How much did union leaders' pay increase? How much did teachers' pay increase? How much did yours?

Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Article comment by: Robert White

Great Job

Too bad the papers in Milwaukee and Madison are afraid of this kind of reporting.

Roberrt White, Waukesha

Posted: Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Article comment by: Phil Dziki


You are making a name for yourself in the Milwaukee area. Mark Belling noted your article on his radio show today, and said you are one of the best investigative reporters in all of Wisconsin (which includes the duds at the Milwaukee Journal). Having been a board member at Wilmot Union High School for 9 years a few years ago, I find your article absolutely fascinating with facts I had not known. All school board members need to read this. Great job!! Keep up the good work.

Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Article comment by: John B

Great work on this story!!! Amazing the Union bosses make more then a lot of Doctors do isn't it?

We wish we had guys like you in SE Wisconsin papers.

Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Article comment by: Mark Baggenstoss

to: Mike Doud

"Unions are out spent by corporations by huge numbers."

Umm......no they aren't.


Posted: Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Article comment by: Mike Doud

Unions are out spent by corporations by huge numbers. Let us not forget what unions have contributed to our society. They are responsible for health care being offered by employers, for the 5 day work week, (even the Lakeland Times likes weekends, it's what brings people to our area). They raised the working conditions for all work places. They set standards of acceptable work quality. They provide an avenue for the employers to communicate with the employees. They help convey suggestions for a more efficient procedure to make whatever is being made in the facility from employee to employer and from employer to employee. Richard Moore should research both sides of a story first before printing it. Unions are responsible for creating the middle class. The middle class is the greatest consumers of manufactured items and for services, They drive the economy. You really need to be more studious Richard Moore. Sure some unions have broken the trust of the members. That's just like some companies have broken the trust of the consumer and the county that they operate in...can you say ENRON.

Posted: Saturday, July 2, 2011
Article comment by: William Hunter

Come on teachers. Better set up those automatic debit arrangements at your bank so the WEAC union officers can continue to qualify as "rich" under the Obama mantra. Also the Democratic party needs to pull down cash so they can have a billion to spend on the elections in 2012. This has to be a team effort.

Posted: Friday, July 1, 2011
Article comment by: Peter Wills


Good article due to actual investigative journalism. Imagine if the major newspapers did even one real story a week. Keep up the good work and forward on social media sirtes for more to enjoy.

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