BY DUSTIN HURST
Life at the top has its perks. Just ask Eric Feaver, the head of the MEA-MFT, Montana’s largest labor union. Feaver, a formidable political force, stands with the little guy in the class struggle, at least in word.
His pocketbook, though, reveals a deeper secret: He takes in enough money, extracted as union dues from Montana teachers, to put him in the top 8 percent of income earners statewide, according to the union’s 2013 federal filing and research by The New York Times.
Required annually by the U.S. Department of Labor, the filings reveal uncomfortable truths for union bosses, including some rather high salaries. Feaver raked in $125,995 in total compensation in 2013, according to his union’s filing.
He wasn’t the highest-paid unionista in the state, though. That’s Norman Dixon, the business manager of a local electrical workers union. He brought in nearly $130,000 in 2013.
Feaver’s high pay is more notable though, given his outspoken political advocacy for class warfare, along with a questionable record of achievement while serving as union president.
Consider his crafting of a 2003 law that blew a $2.4 billion hole in Montana’s two largest pension systems, a mess state lawmakers had to clean up with serious reforms last year. Or, Feaver’s ardent defense of U.S. Sen. John Walsh after the New York Times revealed him as a plagiarist.
More troubling could be Feaver’s endorsement of recently defeated U.S. Senate candidate Amanda Curtis, who Montana Democrats tapped to run after Walsh pulled out of the race. Shortly after Democrats gave Curtis the nod to take on Republican Rep. Steve Daines, media outlets revealed Curtis as an extremist with ties to a union group intent on overthrowing the American economic system.
Feaver isn’t the only union boss raking in the cash on the backs of the MEA-MFT’s 17,500 dues-paying members. Eric Burke, the group’s executive director, made $116,651 last year. MEA-MFT’s political director, Terry Minnow, pocketed $114,522 in 2013.
Collectively, 22 union staffers earned more than $2.4 million last year, or about $109,000 per person.
Put the numbers in context: At $125,000 annually, Feaver ranks among the elite of Montana’s income earners. Similarly, earning the collective average of $109,000 annually puts the other teachers’ union bosses in the top 11 percent of income earners.
The average Montana teacher brings home just more than $47,000 a year, putting her just barely in the top half of the state’s earners, and a starting teacher brings homes $26,000, good enough for the bottom 29 percent.
The numbers unsettle at least one Montana voice. Greg Strandberg, a Democrat who ran for the Montana House of Representatives this year, took to social media and his blog to eviscerate Feaver. “Does the head of MEA-MFT need to make $9,600 a month? How many people would do a better job for half the pay right now? …Since Eric Feaver is getting $500 a day in wages, shouldn’t teachers be getting the same? Otherwise, isn’t he a failure?”
Strandberg suggested the high pay is a political liability for Democrats and creates animosity among members of the MEA-MFT.
Dustin Hurst is the national energy reporter for Watchdog.org.