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Labor's Diss-Union

Given that some teachers may lose their jobs as schools close and others are reorganized in Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's system takeover, it's not unreasonable to think the leaders of the 4,200-member Washington Teachers' Union might be focusing on unity in their current contract talks with Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee (who just canned 98 workers at central headquarters).

And George Parker, union president, and Nathan Saunders, general vice president, certainly are choosing sides--- against each other.

"George and I are officially split on our philosophies of our approaches to solving problems," Saunders said.

"Nathan has his beliefs based on his experience -- or lack thereof," Parker countered. "Nathan doesn't have the history of unionism that some of us have. Some of his perceptions may not be as knowledge-based as ours."

Saunders says Parker is perceived by some as being too close to Rhee. "Members are completely demoralized and desirous of taking action and the union is stuck in the mud," he said.

The dispute boiled over several months ago when Parker notified media-types that official statements can only come from him. Saunders saw that as a move to silence him, and things just got worse, he said, when Parker filled two staff positions from outside the teacher ranks. "We represent teachers who should have the first opportunity to lead and be employed by their union," Saunders said.

Parker, who says he has the support of the board, didn't seem worried. "Teachers feel confident in my negotiating ability," he added.

Meanwhile, Saunders is making his own moves. He said he will join a community "teach-in" at Shaw Middle School in Northwest Washington on Wednesday evening to protest Rhee's plans to close 23 schools and restructure 27 failing ones.

V. Dion Haynes

By Dion Haynes  |  March 25, 2008; 7:25 AM ET
Categories:  Dion Haynes , Education  
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