Michigan Education Association

Teacher Lynn Mason Owes her job to a union friend

A substitute teacher in the mid-1980s, Lynn Mason spent a lot of time ἀlling in for teachers who were sick or out of the classroom for a day or more—so many days, in fact, that the Belding school district had to offer her a job.

Lynn MasonMason didn’t know that she had earned a job until a union friend shared an article from the MEA Voice magazine that described state law. At the time, state law required districts to offer a job to substitutes who worked 120 days or more. Mason met the require-ment—and landed a job.

“I came into the union by accident, by the nature of the job,” said Mason, who teaches physical education. “As I got started in education, I found myself saying, ‘What is this union all about? Talk to me about it.’

”Union friends answered questions and encouraged Mason to get involved in the Belding Education Association. She also got involved with MEA and the National Education Association (NEA). She’s currently one of seven active members representing Michigan on the NEA Board of Directors.

“We’ve got to stop being ashamed of being part of a union,” Mason says. “There are no apologies necessary. We need to have an ‘on purpose attitude,’ which means that we on purpose have to talk about it. We have to talk about (how) being in a union is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, being in a union is how we got where we are.”

Secretary Theresa Dudley is a legacy

Theresa DudleyUntil Theresa Dudley was invited to attend MEA’s Minority Involvement Program, she didn’t appreciate the value of unions.

“When I came in to the union, I didn’t really know a lot about it,” recalls Dudley, head secretary at Grand Rapids’ Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Academy.

And then a teacher invited her to MEA’s Minority Involvement Program, an intro-duction to MEA that serves as a network for future leaders. She was hooked—and forever grateful to Esther Turner, a friend and mentor.

“I talked with her the other day and I told her that she created a monster,” Dudley said. “She saw my leadership potential and wanted to do her part in help-ing me to become a true leader.”

Dudley compares the union to her sorority, describing her colleagues as “family.”

“You’re not alone in the fight for education,” she said. “You have a network behind you.”

A staunch union supporter now, Dudley tells other school employees about the benefits of the union and encourages them to get involved, too.

“If you don’t get involved in an organization where you are a dues paying mem-ber, it’s your own fault. As a dues paying member, you receive all sorts of benefits and services, but more important, you also have a voice,” Dudley reasons.So, why is she part of the union?

Because she cares about the students in her building—and she said that she wants to work at the local, state, and national levels to push for policies that benefit students.“I pay my dues and I’m a proud union member,” Dudley said.

'It's all about you,' teacher Melissa Gronzo says

Melissa GronzoThe enticing invitation for a weekend retreat sparked Melissa Gronzo’s interest in the union.

The invite didn’t read like typical union fare. Instead, it promised fun, networking and professional development tailored to her needs.

Who could pass that up?

Not Gronzo, who met some great new friends and developed an appreciation
for MEA at the same time.

“Before that weekend, I had no idea about what the union was,” Gronzo said. “I knew that it meant protection if you needed it, but after that weekend, I saw it as more of a proactive organization. It turned me around.”

Gronzo teaches third grade in Utica. This fall marks her fourth year in the
district.

But, Gronzo didn’t know a lot about her union when she first started. She didn’t feel any urgency to get involved in association issues such as preserving retirement or health care benefits because neither registered to her as a young, new teacher.

And then the invitation came. Several newer members received similar letters,
part of an MEA effort dubbed SPARKS (see info on page 16 about the program).

“It’s all about you,” Gronzo said of the SPARKS weekend. “They didn’t want anything from me.”

She was proud to represent the colleagues in her district at the event—and she eventually accepted other invitations to participate in her union, too. She now chairs efforts aimed at helping new teachers in her district, and she presented workshops at MEA’s Summer Leadership Conference in July.

“It’s an honor,” Gronzo said.

Updated: September 22, 2009 10:57 AM