Teacher Claims Union Ruined Her Credit, Humiliated Her Over Trying to Leave
A Harper Creek Community Schools special education teacher says her credit has "suffered irreparable" damage and her local union has attempted to humiliate her. The reason, she says, is that she refused to turn over personal banking information that would let the union automatically deduct her dues.
Terri MacKenzie made her claims in a lawsuit she filed against the Michigan Education Association, the National Education Association and the Harper Creek Education Association in Calhoun County district court. Her trial is set for later this month.
The dispute dates back to September 2012 when the MEA was implementing its e-dues automatic deduction. MacKenzie says she was given two options – turn over her private banking information for monthly deductions or pay her annual $1,000 in dues in full, upfront.
When she objected, she said Harper Creek Education Association Co-President Cynthia Fredenburg leaned over and said into her ear, "Take my advice. Pay your dues or we will sue you."
Fredenburg didn't respond to an email seeking comment.
MacKenzie said she has been a union member since 2006 and never had an issue with the union or a need for its services.
"I was a good member. I went along," she said. "I didn't know all the rules. I thought my relationship with the union was really, really good."
That changed when MacKenzie tore up the e-dues deduction card.
She said that Fredenburg told her she was a non-member at that point, and over the course of the next two years told MacKenzie that she wouldn't be privy to certain information because she was no longer a member.
MacKenzie said she had no knowledge of the August opt-out window. That's the only month the MEA allows its members to opt-out. This "August window" was declared illegal by a judge and is being disputed in court.
She said she knew something was wrong in September of 2013, when she received a letter from a collection agency about her non-payment of union dues.
In the lawsuit, MacKenzie said that Fredenburg showed up during her class and handed her a union letter regarding her nonpayment. MacKenzie said her students wanted to know what was in the letter. MacKenzie said she told them, "Oh. It's just a letter."
But the special education teacher says she feels intimidated in her work place.
"It is kind of overwhelming," MacKenzie said. "I feel humiliated. I'm feeling embarrassed. I think they thought I was just going to roll over and take it. It's about them demanding bank information. If they can demand this information, what is next?"
MacKenzie feels her union deliberately kept her in the dark about what her rights were as a member, including what her options were in leaving the union.
"A lot of people don't know what is going on," she said.
Derk Wilcox, a lawyer for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the MEA has a legal duty to be fully open and honest with the people it represents.
"It has to provide the teachers with the complete information the teachers need to make decisions – even if providing that information isn't in the MEA's financial interest," Wilcox said. "The MEA hasn't been forthcoming, and the teachers have been hurt by this. … What we are seeing with Ms. MacKenzie is what we are hearing from teachers all over the state."