Mark Nichols, shown here posing outside of his workplace, recently discovered that his membership had been dropped without his knowledge.

ALBANY — Someone stole Mark Nichols’ union membership.

A longtime CSEA member and accountant at the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System (NYSTRS), Nichols was shocked to discover recently that he was no longer a member.

A postcard from an out-of-state, anti-union entity used to encourage union members to give up their membership had been completed in Nichols’ name and sent to our union without his knowledge. The postcard included a false signature and non-existent contact information.

“It’s a big deal to take away someone’s membership. Union membership protects your livelihood,” said Nichols, who is still surprised and angry about the ordeal.

Discovering fraud
Nichols had completed a steward training and planned to take a negotiations training. When he tried in June to register for that training, he was unable to log onto our union’s website.

CSEA New York State Teachers’ Retirement System Local President Cindy Pohlmann suggested to Nichols that he contact CSEA’s Member Solutions Center for help.

A call center representative told Nichols that he was unable to register for the training because he was no longer a CSEA member.

A closer look at the records revealed that CSEA received a postcard in Nichols’ name canceling his union membership.

Shocked, Nichols asked for and received a copy of the document.

“I saw an address [on the postcard] I never had in my life and the signature was legible, which is nothing like my signature,” said Nichols. “My normal signature has never been legible.”

Nichols resubmitted a membership application, which was quickly processed so he could register for the training.

“If he didn’t try to register for the training, we would have never known [about the fraud],” said Pohlmann.

Relentless efforts
Pohlmann said another NYSTRS Local member was recently tricked out of their union membership when they received a mailing claiming to be from CSEA that stated that members no longer need to pay dues.

Members across the state have reported that they have been the target of aggressive efforts to urge them to quit our union and share their personal information, including through direct mail, emails, postcards, text messages and phone calls.

The materials often appear to be from CSEA, with much of the correspondence falsely attributed to the “CSEA President.” However, they come from anti-union organizations that may be shrouded in numerous aliases.

Relentless outreach and slick marketing messages, often cloaked in patriotic terms such as “freedom” and “liberty,” are aimed at reducing union membership numbers – and worker power.

“These messages are not coming from me or from our union,” said CSEA President Mary E. Sullivan. “Please remain vigilant by not responding to these efforts in order to protect your union benefits and personal information.”

These organizations will even resort to illegal and illicit activity to get members to quit.
In Nichols’ case, the fraudsters likely gained his name, work address and location from online public records, but in some cases employee information has been handed over by unwitting municipalities or agencies.

Technology including bulk email generators combine last names with standard workplace emails to reach as many people as possible in one click.

Nichols reflected on his membership gap and the potential consequences.

“I had no coverage,” said Nichols. “People passively think of their union membership as just dues coming out, but they don’t stop to think how the union protects your rights. People should really check their membership status. It happened to me; someone committed fraud. Whoever did that forged my signature. They should be prosecuted.”

— Therese Assalian


About Author

Therese has been working as the Capital Region Communications Specialist since 2002 handling all facets of internal and external communications for the region. Therese started her career at a Madison Avenue Public Relations firm and held several positions in public relations, marketing and event planning in corporate and non-profit roles in New York and Pittsburgh prior to moving to the Capital Region in 1999. Therese holds Bachelors and Masters degrees in Communication Studies and is also a published freelance writer on travel, food and the arts.

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