Kindergarten teacher became eligible for right-to-work, but union says she can only get out in August
The Michigan Education Association is following through with its vow to threaten the credit of employees who don't voluntarily pay dues despite their desire to exercise their right under the law and leave the union.
Bangor Public Schools kindergarten teacher Kimberle Byrd received a notice from a collection agency for unpaid dues in the amount of $394.20 with the Michigan Education Association listed as the creditor. Byrd said she thought she was out of the union when her union contract expired in 2013.
A new contract with a tentative agreement for teachers in the Van Buren County district was made on Sept. 9, 2013. Michigan's right-to-work law became effective March 28, 2013.
However, the MEA only allows its members to opt out during the month of August. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has set up a website, www.AugustOptOut.org to educate teachers about the August window.
Byrd said she was not aware of the August window. She said she thought that when her contract ended in August she was "free and clear" because of the state's right-to-work law.
According to the MEA, there are still 7,000 members who haven't signed up for automatic dues withdrawal, which became necessary for the union after a state law made it illegal for school districts to automatically deduct dues or fees from teacher paychecks.
In anticipation that it would have trouble collecting from everyone, the MEA created a policy about how to deal with teachers who don't voluntarily pay. It calls for the local association president to forward late dues to collection agencies after 90 days of nonpayment.
The MEA's legal counsel, Art Przbylowicz and Michael Shoudy, did not return requests for comment.
Byrd has been a member of her union for 19 years. She estimated that she's paid as much as $17,000 in union dues over her teaching career.
Yet, Byrd says the union has not helped her in two of her concerns involving her benefits and then engaged in cyberbullying and intimidation once she decided she no longer wanted to be part of the union.
"They keep trying to beat you down and make you feel like you are so afraid and so alone," Byrd said. "Now, they are going to ruin my credit. The easiest thing to do is throw up your hands. I feel very alone. There is nobody I can talk to about it. I don't know if anybody else has been turned over to creditors."
Byrd said Randy Ward, the local union president, sent an email to all the teachers in the bargaining unit identifying Byrd and the handful of other members who hadn't paid dues. Byrd said one teacher felt compelled to explain she couldn't afford the dues, which bothered Byrd.
Bangor Public Schools Superintendent Ron Parker confirmed that the email was sent out.
Ward did not respond to a request for comment.
Byrd said the union also turned a deaf ear to her salary and insurance concerns.
She said she has two master's degrees and the salary pay scale didn't reflect the additional education. Many contracts reward education beyond a master's degree. Byrd said the union told her she was the only teacher in that situation and therefore the union wouldn't spend time on it.
Byrd said for more than a decade she's been paying the same rates on her insurance as employees with the family plan even though she is single. The union contract didn't differentiate between single and family plan rates. Many contracts in other districts offer different rates.
"They have never negotiated for me or to benefit me, but their negotiations have often hurt me," Byrd said.
The Mackinac Center is representing several teachers in a legal dispute over the MEA's limited window for resigning. The teachers say they also have been bullied by their union and want to resign their membership. Most have said they were told repeatedly about how to pay dues but never told how or when they could opt out.