Why I'm a Member
In 2007, during her second year of teaching at a U.S. Department of Defense school in Wiesbaden, Germany, Jennifer Loftus discovered a thick envelope in her mail. Inside was an intimidating sheaf of papers—each marked with an official government seal— informing her she owed thousands of dollars to the U.S. government for teacher housing. The letter detailed a handful of repayment options, and indicated she would need to start paying immediately, or her salary would be garnished. The problem? Loftus knew she didn’t owe a dime. The fix? Her union! As a member of the Federal Education Association (FEA)—the NEA-affiliated union of teachers and educational support professionals in Department of Defense schools around the world—Loftus was able to tap a deep reserve of resources and support. “The first thing they did was alleviate my fear,” says Loftus. “You get this feeling that the government is coming after you, and it’s very scary! I’m a law-abiding citizen. I’ve never lived beyond my means, and here they’re telling me I owe a lot of money. I knew I didn’t owe them anything, and I tried telling them that…but they weren’t listening.”
As an individual, Loftus didn’t have a loud voice. But as a union of educators, FEA does. Loftus handed her carefully maintained records to FEA’s experienced attorneys, and they got on the case. In 2009, they brought Loftus and 14 other FEA members—collectively accused of owing about a quarter-million dollars total to the federal government—to an arbitration hearing in Germany. FEA tore apart the government case. “It was incredible to watch [FEA attorney] Bill Freeman go through our cases with the same meticulous care,” says Loftus. “I am definitely proud to be a member.”
Soon after, Loftus discovered another official letter in her mail. But this letter read, “Wow! We actually owe you money!” Loftus says. On her own—without the assistance of her union—Loftus says she could never have reached resolution. “I did try, but I don’t know the government’s formulas or how they work…and I’m just trying to teach second grade and be the best teacher I can. I want my energies focused on the kids and the improvement of the school.
—Mary Ellen Flannery