A West Virginia Teacher Union Cover Up?

by

West Virginia teachers, take hold of your First Amendment rights, and your professional liability.  All government employees may exercise their First Amendment rights to resign from unwanted union membership by visiting myjanusrights.org.   

On June 16, 2020, in United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Cathy Byers, former Treasurer of American Federation of Teachers Local 6540 (located in Ronceverte, W.Va.), pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in the approximate amount of $22,000, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1343.

Yet, like the Highlands of Scotland, everything in this story seems to be shrouded in mist. 

It is interesting to note that the above-mentioned theft was discovered as a result of last year’s school strike, when Cathy Byers, Treasurer and Jayne Ford, president, resigned their leadership posts in Greenbrier County’s American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union Local 6540.   The two officers declined to comment on why they resigned during the strike. 

When AFT state affiliate officials took over the local’s affairs, they found a total of less than $10.00 in the accounts, but nearly $23,000 in purchases “unrelated to the business”.   State affiliate union official Christine Barr was determined to keep the shocking revelation “confidential,” and wrote a letter on January 10 to the two women.    

In the letter, Ms. Barr stated, “We desire to resolve any and all discrepancies and to make the local union whole, . . .  We are more than willing to remedy this situation confidentially.”  Ms. Barr’s letter does not make any accusation of wrongdoing.   

“The purchases mentioned in the letter were made between June 16, 2015, and April 4, 2018. They included $6,770.62 in purchases at Kroger, Walmart and department stores; $2,765.36 to the QVC television shopping network; and $2,262.68 in cash withdrawals and checks made out to Byers.

Jayne Ford wrote back 3 days later stating Byers had admitted using union cards for personal expenditures.  The former president of AFT Local Ford asked the union to provide her with a letter attesting to her own innocence.

“At no time was I ever aware that this breach of trust and abhorrent, reckless behavior was taking place,” she wrote. “I am shocked, horrified and very distressed that [Byers] would place the union members and myself in such a precarious situation.”

Neither Byers nor Ford, or even the West Virginia AFT President would comment on the situation.  Ford acknowledged that she wrote the Jan. 13 letter, but declined comment otherwise.

West Virginia AFT President Fred Albert confirmed the authenticity of the letter AFT sent, but would not say if he believed any money had been embezzled from the local. He said certain “discrepancies” were found and the account is now as it should be. 

“All that I can tell you at this moment is that their account is clear, the money for that local is in their treasury, and that’s all I can tell you at this moment,” he said. He would not say how the union was repaid.

Albert said no union members had been left in the dark because all “discrepancies” had been resolved.

“If it did occur, I think that we are about transparency and disclosing anything, but I’m not sure that anything has been proven to that effect,” he said.

Ford said in her letter that any bank statements went directly to Byers, and that she never reviewed the local’s books and “trusted her to be a responsible adult and handle the financial transactions for AFT-Greenbrier.”

Greenbrier County Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Bryant would not comment on Byers’ resignation, citing personnel matters. He referred any questions about the alleged misuse of funds to the AFT.

Kristin Anderson, a spokeswoman from the state Department of Education, said in an email the department was aware of “the Greenbrier County School employee’s resignation.”

Christine Campbell, who was president of the state AFT until November 2018, said she did not know about any misuse of union funds, even though the AFT’s Jan. 10 letter says the last questionable purchases were made in April 2018 and that the state AFT took over the local’s account in August 2018.

Campbell said she thought Byers and Ford resigned because they opposed the walkout while their local members supported it.

Greenbrier County Schools Superintendent Jeffrey Bryant would not comment on Byers’ resignation, citing personnel matters. He referred any questions about the alleged misuse of funds to the AFT.

Kristin Anderson, a spokeswoman from the state Department of Education, said in an email the department was aware of “the Greenbrier County School employee’s resignation.”

“We are working with Greenbrier County to determine steps necessary at the state level concerning licensure, but as with all personnel issues, we cannot comment in detail,” Anderson said.