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It took years for Veronica Bass to figure out she was overpaying her union dues. Getting her money back looks like it may take just as long.

For the past seven years, Veronica Bass has worked as a teacher's assistant in the Houston Independent School District. Besides helping out in the classroom of her middle school, she's been a head softball coach and a volleyball coach, and she helps out coaching Special Olympics students. She's also the mother of two daughters, ages 11 and 15.

So she has a busy life. And like most people with busy lives, sometimes she doesn't nail down all the details.

In her case, this has resulted in a not-inconsiderable gotcha. She wasn't looking at her paycheck stub; didn't do it for years. When she finally got around to checking it out in 2009, she discovered that she'd been paying out not just one but two deductions in union dues in a lot of paychecks in 2008 and 2009. One deduction was at a teacher's (higher) rate and the other at her own lower clerical/teacher's assistant level.

Veronica Bass wants her overpayment back.
Margaret Downing
Veronica Bass wants her overpayment back.

On other checks, she'd only had one deduction, but it was coded for a teacher. In bits and pieces, dollars and cents, she'd been overpaying for union representation for quite a while.

So she went to the Houston Federation of Teachers for help, and what followed, as HFT itself confirms now, wasn't optimum. She kept getting assurances that things would be fixed — that she would be reimbursed for the overpayments — and nothing happened.

She eventually took her problems to the payroll department in HISD and the incorrect withdrawals were finally stopped by HISD as of her November 11, 2009 paycheck. But that did nothing about the previous overpayments.

An HFT secretary, hewing closely to the official line, initially offered Bass a $53 reimbursement. Bass thought she was probably owed a whole lot more than that and asked that the matter be investigated further. She requested printouts and records, and in the end — HFT discovered she'd paid at the wrong rate way back in 2004 as well — she now figures that she's owed more than $1,000.

In January 2010, HFT chief of staff Helen Wheatley offered Bass $150 as a settlement agreement for her overpayment, with the additional stipulation that Bass would receive one free year of dues in 2010-11. Bass did not accept.

HFT does not agree with Bass's $1,000 request. Initially, HFT President Gayle Fallon agreed with the smaller payout, but then union rep Joanna Pasternak investigated and found that perhaps another rep hadn't pushed Bass's case forward appropriately in 2009. Fallon decided they'd cover more than the one year that their bylaws call for. But there was no way they were going back to 2004, Fallon said.

By the end of her correspondence with Bass, Fallon had lost all her good humor — after Bass accused her of "fraud" — and, writing from her BlackBerry, Fallon said: "Any further correspondence will be handled by our attorney."

In the latest offer, made in October, HFT put a last-ditch $512.20 on the table. Pasternak says Bass accepted this offer verbally, but later changed her mind and wouldn't sign the paperwork. Bass says she never said she'd sign off on that amount.

As a wonderful side note to all this, HISD and HFT seem to be at odds over how to resolve a wrong-paycheck issue involving union dues. HISD spokesman Jason Spencer says anyone who has a problem with union dues should go to HFT to get it resolved. HFT says no, the individual should go directly to HISD payroll — they'll be glad to help, but really, payroll deductions are between the employer and the employee.

"She was apparently double-deducted. I told her we'll refund her a year," Fallon says. "She doesn't seem to understand that some of this was actually her responsibility. I don't get to see your paycheck, you do," Fallon says. "No one's trying to cheat her."

Bass remains unconvinced. She wants to know why HFT or even HISD isn't at all responsible for looking at the numbers they generate. She says she's not the only one who's paid too much in union dues. HFT reps agree there have been others, but say it hasn't been many over the years.

Bass wants to know why HFT isn't doing right by her (as she sees it) — even though as a union steward on her campus, she's been one of HFT's biggest supporters.
_____________________

In an October 13, 2011 letter to Bass, Pasternak says the whole mistake initially occurred because Bass filled out "two enrollment forms." According to Pasternak, this happened in 2004 and 2005 and again in 2008 and 2009.

Bass says no, that's not exactly it. The first time around, she was brand-new to the district and when someone said she should join the union, she thought it sounded like a good idea, filled out the form handed her and turned it in. For those years, she says, she was charged at the higher teacher's rate, not double-charged.

In 2008, she was released from her contract at one school and there was a gap of several months before she was hired by a principal at another school. Nothing was being taken out for her union dues so she asked HFT what she should do, and she was told to fill out another card. Which she did, even though she apparently shouldn't have — it resulted in her paying dues as both a teacher and a teacher's assistant. Since she didn't check her pay stub, she didn't know.

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36 comments
Charles J. Saunders II
Charles J. Saunders II

Hello and good morning Ms. Downing.

As a interested and curious reader of this incident, I would really like to know what the outcome is about this case because as an individual who wants to know more about the HISD and how the employees are treated? Also as someone wondering how good the school system is I am concerned because I'm seeing many kids who should be in school feeding their minds and building their futures out roaming the malls as well as the streets and that's not good. After reading once before about this situation and not being able to truly imagine that a faithful educational assistant was not alerted that she has been over paying her dues and after questioning the Administrators on up to the Superintendent that no one wanted to admit that someone was knowingly taking more than what was suppose to be given. This should be taken care of and Ms. Bass deserves to receive all of what she had been unknowingly paying. Honesty has always been the best policy and it should be performed in this case.

Thank you for your time.

Vbass2
Vbass2

HEADS UP!!! Just wanted to give the readers an update on the latest with HFT/AFT---they've decided to pay for a jury trail already knowing the financial stresses they've already caused me in the past! The money that they paid to pay for a jury trail they should have re-imbursed me the over-payment dues that are due to me and my family...I mean that would be a civil thing to do this holiday season. Right?

Helium
Helium

Your better off protecting yourself than to volunteer your services and to be apart of a UNION like HFT that will treat you like you've stolen something from them. What is the problem? The problem is HFT (its in black and white) this story is real simple...the money was taken so the money should be returned!

HOT MESS
HOT MESS

No one has ever stood up to Gayle Fallon and won!! This man....oooppppsss!! my bad this woman plays real dirty!! Your talking about a real dirty individual to stand up against...She has in the past caused individuals their jobs! The 'PEOPLE' have given her too much power to rob, steal and destroy--but I'm for right!! The money is owed to this yound lady and it should be given back to her. Let's see how Ms. Fallon moves her power now...it's NEVER for the good! Ms. Bass I'm proud of you to even want to go against this heartless woman. I'm hoping you make history by standing up and fighting for what's right! So many times our very own employers don't stand behind us--its really ashame that HISD has even allowed this to even happen to you! Better systems should be put in place to better serve and protect our employees. HISD has the power to direct HFT to pay this money back!! Good luck and as a reader I want to read about the final happenings to this story.

Jessicacoop
Jessicacoop

I love the fact tht u stood up for wht u believe in..Go cousin

Oaprendiz
Oaprendiz

How do you think your going to take money from a 'BLACK' woman and get away with it?! lol This story is really a no brainer for HFT--you've gotten caught now give the woman her money back! She's only fighting for what's rightfully hers and that's her money!!!

Sillyyellow
Sillyyellow

"No One is Trying To Cheat Her!"--This must be on Ms. Fallon's heart because this young lady NEVER stated that they were cheating her she simply just requested for a refund of her money. How is it that no one is protecting this young lady--both her employer nor her union!! This is really outrageous...I'm speechless because it's really a cut and dry situation. HFT took the money HFT should refund teh money entirely...PERIOD!

Jb
Jb

All I can say in most cases unions dues can often times be worst than bank overdraft fees...Good luck!

Ms Exclusive
Ms Exclusive

You've taken a hard hit this year already but you NEVER stopped ticking! Being the person that I know who you are you will continue to serve looking past all the small stuff...stay focused because again this is only a test! Don't fail--love ya!

Ro-Ro
Ro-Ro

I can't believe that HFT tried using to their defense that you had personal issues which caused you to over look your paycheck or money--the thing is it NEVER stopped your works! Your remarkable and incrdible Veronica even if they don't give you back your money--because in most cases that's what crooks do...my prayer is that God bless you 1,000 fold! Double for your troubles. Love ya!

Bigkperk
Bigkperk

I see trouble written all over this matter...RUN!

Louie
Louie

Wow! Is it worth all the trouble you guys are putting this young ladt through? I red about all of the money that these two organizations HISD/HFT make per year--the refund would be like a drop in the bucket for them to refund the differences.

Shawonda_bass
Shawonda_bass

Committed, Dedicated and well worth her troubles....give Ms. Bass back her money!

Missolo7
Missolo7

I feel that both HFT/HISD didn't do their job of protecting this young lady...with anything this young lady may NOT have felt the need to have to check her check stubs against the two most highly recognized organizations. However, now that the problem has come to light then I feel the money should be redirected to her for NOT just her over sight but just her committment of over seeing as a steward. I hope that HFT/HISD do the right thing--I'm sure they will.

Tinabss
Tinabss

Give the woman her money back....simple!

Lillianedwards5423
Lillianedwards5423

Give this woman her money back--Good gosh almighty! It's already hard enough to have individuals to stand proud and service our community on a volunteer base...to my understanding being a stewart is services given for 'FREE'! I'm a little alarmed by this story and has really caused me to view HFT/HISD in a whole new light! If your employer can't protect you and your union than who do you trust?

Jayelynb
Jayelynb

This story is so simple!!! Give the lady her freaking money back for God sake! We're already suffering in this economy and to have your union and your employer NOT protect ya come on for goodness sake! This young lady didn't go into the system to make up the dues list herself--the one that should be responsible for repaying this should be the one that actually put the information in the system since no one wants to assume responsibility! Thanks to the editor for pushing this story and being the voice for small people like this courageous lady--

Mflores2415
Mflores2415

Marcelina FloresHFT 2008 Membership Data Entry Clerk

Veronica Bass I am here for you! I was very disappointed in Ms. Fallon and her staff to allow this error to continue. I paid the price by losing my position with the Houston Federation of Teachers Union (HFT) in 2008. I was an Houston Independent School District employee for 23 years and I know how hard our educational staff work, for such little pay. My question to Ms. Fallon is "How can you be the voice of the professionals and hard working employees in education when you are not honest, fair and trust worthy to the members. How can the staff of this organization turn their face when they are aware of the wrong doing to it's members. The HFT members dues are the wages of HFT staff."

I am sorry that this had to happen to you Veronica but somebody has to bury the skunk.

Charles J. Saunders
Charles J. Saunders

SO IS THIS HOW SCHOOL DISTRICTS STAY IN BUSINESS, BY RIPPING OFF THEIR EMPLOYEES? NOW FOR A MOTHER OF TWO TO DIVIDE HER TIME BETWEEN RAISING TWO KIDS, ASSISTING WITH TEACHING, TEACHING, COACHING AND ASSISTING IN SPECIAL OLYMPICS ARE THESE PEOPLE CRAZY? HISD AND HFT HAD BETTER GIVE HER ALL OF THE BACK OVER PAYMENTS FROM FOUR YEARS OF DEDICATION AND LOYALTY BECAUSE I CAN HONESTLY SAY THAT NOT ALL TEACHERS WILL GIVE THAT MUCH OF THEIR TIME SO YES, LOYALTY IS A 2-WAY STREET!! HFT AND HISD WANT TO SAY THAT Ms. BASS DIDN'T LOOK OVER HER CHECK STUBS, EVEN THOUGH IT'S GOOD TO DO SO SHE SHOULDN'T HAVE HAD TO LOOK OVER IT TO ENSURE THAT SHE WASN'T BEING CHEATED BUT NOW I URGE HER TO GET AN ATTORNEY, SHOW EVERYTHING (ALL PAY STUBS, INCOME TAX FORMS) AND AND DO NOT SETTLE FOR ANYTHING BUT WHAT'S OWED TO YOU. IT'S THEIR MISSION TO NOT GIVE HER ANYTHING MUCH LESS SETTLE FOR PAYING BUS FARE. Ms. BASS. STAY ON THEIR @$$3$ FULL SPEED AND ENSURE THAT THEY GIVE YOU ALL THAT'S OWED.

Stephanieb48
Stephanieb48

I would stop arguing with them.. Just get you a LAWYER....BET THEY THINK TWICE ABOUT LAWYER FEES, PAIN AND SUFFERING...ETC!

Majaliwa Bass
Majaliwa Bass

This all seems pretty cut and dry to me. She overpaid. They acknowledge it. Give her a refund! Isn't the whole point of a Union to defend its members against "the man". It's so sad that they have become "the man". Here it is, a single mother of two kids on a low-income salary. You can't tell me that they can't afford to reimburse her $1,000. Ridiculous. Especially given all that she has done to contribute to the school system and her community. This is very sad and disappointing. No wonder people don't want to be teachers!

Veronica Bass
Veronica Bass

Besides I've only been fighting this issue for a 'couple' years!

Jeanette
Jeanette

Man, If this is the way a union treats you; who would ever want to join one especially for HISD. Yes, she didn't catch this until years later. But she was only acting under the direction of them. They told her to fill out the additional papers. They had her enrolled as a teacher and not a teachers assistant. Their actions lead to this result. They directed her wrongly and now she has to pay for not catching their mistake. Would it have been to hard for them to verify what actions to take before just handing her another form to fill out. They should pay her back the money she was over charged for. I believe even the uncle SAM would pay your money back if they found out they were over charging people.

No one wants to do their job. Payroll's responsibility is to pay people and not over charge them for something they worked so hard for. I bet if they were over paying her they would demand that they get their money back even to the point of garnishing her wages. They should learn from this mistake and correct the wrong and just pay her the full amount she is owed.

Wishing you the best of luck,Hard Working Women

Vbass2
Vbass2

Yeah her son is paid 1/2 million dollars of our tax paying money per year and he's paid this salary weather he wins or looses the case!! HFT is family ran and 'FALLON' has used her powers for years to manipulate people scared to beleive in what she feels and thinks and if ya don't believe in what she says then she simply fires you! That's what happens whenn no one is overseeing the 'WRONG' doers!!

Huggie Bear
Huggie Bear

This is the end resolts of one woman--Gayle Fallon monopolizing one organization. Rules and policies need to be changed...maybe even the president of HFT Ms. Fallon!!

Tjiocca
Tjiocca

As I read this article, I kept expecting to hear how some kind soul(s) in HFT had pitched in to help reimburse this woman for the dues she overpaid. At most, the difference between what the union offered her ($512) and what she feels she is owed ($1,000) is less than $500, and that's going back to 2004. My God, HFT, the woman makes less than 20 grand a year and you want to play hard ball with her! Shame on you.

You know, HFT has taken it on the chin these last few years, especially with their inability to slow down Dr. Grier's reforms. You would have thought they could have earned a little good will by treating this employee a little better. Guess not.

Jadatravis54
Jadatravis54

Marcelina,

Thanks! I'm moved by the remarkable statement that was well put together. Together continue to be the voice for the 'people'--even if the change isn't granted to you continue to pave the way for others so that they don't have to loose their jobs like you nor their fair wages like Ms. Bass...we will continue to lift you and the young lady up in prayer as you lift one another in prayer. Trust me God looks out for his people. Keep your heads up young ladies--smile.

Vbass2
Vbass2

Trust and believe the arguing never started--HFT has told me from the start what they weren't going to do and that was NOT pay me my money at 100%! I'm going to do this the proper way...we will let the courts decide because its starting to get a little unprofessional if ya know what I mean.

Vbass2
Vbass2

The union often times forget that they work for the 'PEOPLE'! If it wasn't for our salaries they wouldn't be employed! The thing is they acknowledged some years ago too but dropped the ball. But it;s a pretty cut and dry case to me...you took my money so now that its been acknowledged give it back!! PERIOD! I will continue to serve my members and my community because this is what I like to do but again I feel slighted by the expressions that is coming from my superiors Ms. Fallon and Mrs. Pasternak.

Veronica Bass
Veronica Bass

It's apparent that the directives given wasn' at all correct and ended up costing me a whole lot of time and money! It's very disappointing knowing that the union is suppose to work for you and NOT vice versa! This has really been a lesson learned on my behalf...by both my union HFT and my employee HISD. I believe that HFT was just running me against time to only throw me under the bus. No one wants to take responsibility for their actions--even thou HFT states that this matter isn't uncommon...who really knows? I feel that a complete audit should be given on the union to see who they've been double billing throughout the years. HISD must do a better job at protecting their vested interest (employers) our union members must be made aware that when we fill out a card with our signature it basically states that I authorize that agent/agency to take, steal, rob or even destry you and your finances!!! But is this fair--does this give an agent the permission to take from the innocent and rob from the poor. I'm NOT fighting for anything but what has been rightfully been taking from me and that is my hard earned money! My money didn't and haven't come easy. Your right the 'RIGHT' thing to do is just repay me my money and stop all of teh capital 'BULL' by stating that you've paid insurance and other fees out of my money--how could you have paid all of this out on an imaginary member!? STOP-IT! HFT your out of line...for real!

Veronica Bass
Veronica Bass

This is more than 'OUTRAGE' this is 'RIDICULOUS' and the people that are fighting this matter is even more so should be ashamed of themselves!

Vbass2
Vbass2

Please note that originall they offered me less than the $512.00...more like *$53.00 to run with and shut up--all along I've requested my money entirely from the start! HFT has crossed the lines on this matter but I hope that the reading learn from this article is to check your records to see if you've been targarted as one of the individuals that were doubled deducted on your check. HFT states that they can only pay back partial of the money because tehy had to pay insurance on the money...my thing is if you were double taking from my check who were you paying the imaginary money insurance on? I feel violated!

MadMac
MadMac

I agree. I'm pro-union, always have been. This is a scuff on all of us and it's hard enough to get folks to join in this right-to-fire state. It's even harder to raise money in this rough economy. Ms. Fallon needs to remember the union is here for the worker, not the other way around.

Vbass2
Vbass2

Ms. Fallon seems to have forgotten a whole lot of things...it's easier to pass the blame on someone or something else than to just deal with the issue at hand and resolve it by doing what is right! But what happens when we becomes so crooked in the mind and began to rob and cheat our union members then that's when we the people must join and pull together and fight! I'm sure this wasn't the first case of the union mishandling finances--theirs no one to proof or reconcile their books. What we should do as a whole is request an open book audit of all the monies that have been collected over the sum of years. Then we will see a 'BIGGER' story than what has been printed. This is a knowingly act...and anything knowingly is 'FRUAD'! If we can get Ms. Fallon to STOP directing her data entry clerk(s) to stop changing figures/codes so that her numbers can balance a whole lot of memers like myself wouldn't have gotten caught in this scandal! I'm a little frustrated because I'm NOT only a member but I'm a current stewart and have been in good standing with HFT for years--they have simply caught the wrong person in this spider web! I'm totally slighted by their comments and have lost a since of respect for Ms. Fallon and Ms. Pasternak all at the same time! I lost my dad this past January 2011 this incident has nothing to do with my duties because I continued to serve faithfully as a stewart to my campus and my community. Now what will the union say about me? Up until this article I believed and trusted in the union!! My fight has and will continue to be what's right...HFT took my money and by right I should have my money returned entirely! I feel that I've been more than fair and patient...I never wanted to send this matter to small claims but when a person take your kindness for weakness you must take the matters to a higher calling and for me that higher calling was for the judge to make a judgement. Let's NOT forget it's only been two years that I've been trying to resolve this matter--and for two years Ms. Fallon has placed everyone in this matter to assist in resolving except herself. Now she's been called to the forefront...so let's see how she's going to handle this matter...will it be professionally or bitter?

 
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