Teachers who feel they are not properly being represented by the Michigan Education Association do have an alternative.

The Association of American Educators, a professional association with members in all 50 states, offers teachers access to insurance, career development and industry information without worrying about what it calls "the partisan politics of bargaining or labor unions."

"Teachers who join us do so for a vast number of reasons," says Heather Reams, director of communications for AAE. "But they almost always tell us the same thing. They’re glad there’s an alternative."

Reams said teachers who do not wish to belong to labor union mention factors such as moral issues, political issues or just the fact they do not appreciate lacking alternatives in what they support.

"Many times, people are frustrated because their union is supporting causes that they are against," Reams said. "They don’t have a voice and they feel like other people are making choices for them."

Reams pointed to a January editorial in The Wall Street Journal that caught the eye of teachers nationwide. The Journal detailed how the National Education Association had given $65 million in 2005 to political groups that have little to do with education, such as Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Fund to Protect Social Security and the National Women’s Law Center.

NEA President Reg Weaver made $439,000 according to the union’s LM-2 report, while an annual payroll of $58 million for 600 employees included more than 300 making over $100,000. That is in stark comparison to the national average of $48,000 a year for teachers.

"What wasn’t clear before is how much of a part the teachers unions play in the wider liberal movement and the Democratic Party," said Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency, according to The Journal. "They’re like some philanthropic organization that passes out grant money to interest groups."

Reams says that issue is a high priority for teachers who call the AAE.

"The NEA’s LM-2 points out that they really don’t fairly represent their members," she said. "When 40 percent of teachers identify themselves as Republican, and they’re giving all that money to left wing causes, it makes you wonder where the balance is."

Reams said the recent announcement that the NEA will partner with the AFL-CIO also has many teachers concerned.

"A lot of teachers are upset because they don’t think of themselves as union members," she said. "Even though the Teamsters pulled out, people are asking themselves ‘what am I, a teacher or a Teamster?’ and it can be very confusing."

The AAE’s Web site, www.aaeteachers.org, spells out that the association does not get involved in partisan politics or the non-educational agendas that labor unions often pursue.

"We do not use our dues for any political or social agendas," Reams said. "We don’t want to offend our members by doing that."

Reams said dues for the AAE are $150 a year. The MEA takes about $570 from teachers, while teachers in other states pay hundreds more.

For teachers who may want to leave their union, the ability to access various types of insurance is often a concern.

"We can provide the insurance that makes teachers feel safe to leave their union," Reams said. "Those are the things they really care about."

Insurance plans for liability, health, disability and autos also are available through the AAE.