By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
HELENA – Through words, people tell stories, paint pictures, save lives and craft important public policy.
How folks handle words reveals so much about them: birthplace, education level, personality traits, culture and so much more.
Words also reveal political agendas.
So it is with the president of the MEA-MFT, Eric Feaver. He heads the state’s most powerful labor union, boasting 17,000 teachers and healthcare workers, from his office just steps from the Capitol building here in Helena.
As president of the group, he impacts civics through direct lobbying of lawmakers, coordinating with other union leaders to press for common goals and types nearly regular missives rallying his faithful followers.
His messages, though, tell a story of an entrenched union boss neglecting some of the duties of his organization.
A quick glance at the MEA-MFT webpage portrays an organization concerned not only with the happiness of its members, but also a group striving to hone the skills of educators and improve education generally for Montana students.
“MEA-MFT provides many resources to help you do your job better and with greater satisfaction,” the website says, boasting of “cutting-edge” training workshops just a few paragraphs later.
“MEA-MFT offers training to help both certified teachers and education support professionals hone their skills and meet state and national standards,” another line touts.
In its annual federal nonprofit filing, Feaver and company point out that they serve primarily as an advocacy group, but also seeks “quality professional development.”
On the surface, the group proudly brags about its efforts to better serve its customers, the students of Montana’s public school system.
But where the rubber meets the road, wildly different priorities emerge and elbow out professional development. Instead, securing beefy pay hikes, health benefits and guaranteed taxpayer-funded pensions top the union’s list of things to do.
Feaver and his crew might shy away from admitting their lopsided priorities directly, but the president would have a hard time disputing the pattern exposed in his writing over the past few years.
It would, of course, stand as naïve to suggest that a labor union wouldn’t have a stake in aggressively forwarding the interests of its members – that’s why the membership pays hundreds of dollars in dues each year.
What might surprise observers is the wild imbalance between interest-seeking and the discussion of how to improve educators.
Montana Watchdog grabbed nearly all of Feaver’s official updates written to members in the past three years, compiled the words in a wordcloud and analyzed the results.
Here’s Feaver’s wordcloud:
Notice anything intriguing or even startling about the make-up of that cloud?
Of the more than 7,700 words written by Feaver in the past couple years, he mentions kids, students or children a collective 16 times. The word training appears twice, but only once in reference to teachers honing their skills.
Those highly regarded and cutting-edge workshops? Feaver mentioned workshops exactly zero times.
Some of the most obvious words, notably state, public and education, hulk in the cloud. The next tier, though, divulges the union’s real priorities.
Feaver mentioned retirement — using either that word or pensions — a whopping 44 times in the compiled writings.
Talk of pay earns another 40 mentions, partially stemming from the 2011 legislation sessions, wherein the Republican-controlled Legislature beat back a multi-million dollar pay hike negotiated between the unions and Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Health insurance also earned high mentions from the union president, grabbing 21 references. Feaver has long-advocated for an educator insurance pool.
Of course, any political leader has to offer a bogeyman to frighten his members and persuade strict loyalty to the cause. Feaver namedrops Tea Party Republicans 14 times, while never mentioning Democrats.
Montana Watchdog emailed Feaver for comment on the story, but he did not reply to the request.
Contact Dustin Hurst at Dustin@Watchdog.org or @DustinHurst via Twitter.
— Edited by Kelly Carson, firstname.lastname@example.org