PORT HURON, Mich. – Jacqueline O’Neil began her job as an accountant clerk for the Port Huron Area School District in August of 2008. She said she couldn’t believe she had to join a union and pay dues as a condition of employment.
“It was either that or find employment elsewhere,” O’Neil said.
When right-to-work became law in March of 2013, O’Neil thought she was free to leave the Michigan Education Association. Like many others, she didn’t know that if she wanted to stop paying the union she would only be allowed to opt out in the month of August. That is a bylaw exclusive to the MEA and is being legally challenged.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted when I received a 1,000-word email telling me that I had missed the deadline to ‘opt out’ of union membership,” O’Neil said.
What’s worse, she said, is the union sent her that email on Sept. 18, 2013, well after the August ‘window’ had closed.
Now, the union has forwarded her unpaid union dues to a collection agency. The move could harm her credit rating.
O’Neil was part of the union for seven years and estimates the union collected $2,000 from her over that span.
“It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I consider it $2,000 for nothing,” she said.
O’Neil said she felt bullied by the union bringing in a collection agency.
“It’s ‘high-end bullying’ to put it in elementary school terms: ‘If you don’t play by our rules, we’ll teach you a lesson.’
“Additionally, any ethical group automatically terminates membership for non-payment of dues,” O’Neil added. “They have made the process of leaving the union deliberately confusing in order to keep the money rolling in. To send non-paying members’ names to a collection agency is deplorable. I firmly believe that there are MANY others that wanted out, but found it easier to pay the dues because of the bullying. It would have been easier for me, as well, but I will not be bullied. I am far too busy with my family to have to deal with this immature behavior and the subsequent hassle. I am extremely frustrated and angry about the time that I have had to expend on fighting the union for my freedom from their harassment.”
Deirdre Blake, the president of the Port Huron Association of Educational Secretaries, did not respond to a request for comment.
John Ellsworth, a Grand Ledge Public Schools teacher and a former union president, said the MEA should not use collection agencies for this first year because it didn’t advertise the August opt-out window.
“I do not believe the MEA or my local appropriately told its members in the summer of 2013 about the August opt out window, so I think it is inappropriate to try to collect dues for the 2013-2014 school year using collection agencies,” Ellsworth said. “However, both the MEA and my local have explained the August opt out window this summer, so I think it is fine if the MEA wants to use a collection agency for 2014-2015 dues not paid by members that were informed.”
Authored by Tom Gantert
Published with permission