WTU Board Turns Up Heat on Parker
Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) president George Parker was censured by his executive board this week, the latest reflection of unhappiness with his leadership in the contentious contract talks with the D.C. school system.
Union sources said a resolution, passed by a 9-4 vote Thursday night, accused Parker of failing to keep the board informed about negotiations with DCPS, and of providing no documentation of exactly what has been proposed at the table. Parker was also accused of improperly canceling board meetings.
"The resulting state of the WTU is one of membership confusion on contract negotiations, contract compliance and job security," said the resolution, drafted by Parker's chief internal antagonist, general vice president Nathan Saunders. The measure also directed the union's attorney "to take the strongest legal action against President George Parker if the same behavior continues.
"We've put George on the 90-day plan," Saunders said, referring to a provision in school system personnel rules that allow administrators to give teachers three months to improve their performance or face dismissal. Saunders said the documentation issue is especially serious because it may impede the union's ability to declare an impasse and take the matter to mediation.
Parker dismissed the move as an empty political gesture by Saunders.
"It ain't worth the paper it's printed on," he said. "It's another one of Nathan's little ploys."
Parker disputed the idea that he hasn't kept union members informed. He added that the executive board has overstepped its authority under the WTU constitution. It is the union's representative assembly--consisting of at least one teacher from each school--that wields the real influence.
This is not the most severe sanction the group could have sought. It could have passed a vote of no confidence, or directed the union's attorney to sue Parker for misconduct. Moreover, eight members of the 22-member board were absent, leaving the panel with barely a quorum.
And support for Saunders is not exactly rock-solid either. Sources said there was an unsuccessful motion to amend the resolution to express unhappiness with his leadership as well.
Still, it's another sign of the deep schism among leaders and rank-and-file over Chancellor Michelle Rhee's contract proposal, which offers big salary increases in exchange for a weakening of tenure protections for teachers. A largely--but not exclusively-- younger wing of the membership is furious with Parker for not allowing Rhee's plan to come to a vote. A more seasoned camp of teachers is opposed to any contract that would weaken job security.
Rhee said she has secured $200 million in private foundation funding to pay for the first five years of raises--which are contingent on union acceptance of the tenure rollback.
The labor dispute surfaced Thursday during Rhee's D.C. Council appearance, when Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) put Rhee on notice that DCPS would not be immune to spending cuts if District finances continued to deteriorate. He added that if the contract had been settled a few months ago, the District would have been on the hook legally to give teachers a pay hike retroactive to last year. Now, there's nothing in the District's wallet.
"The reality is they may have missed the bus," Catania said. "The union's strategy has done them a disservice."
Catania also urged Rhee and the teachers resolve their differences, saying he did not want a repeat of the 1993 teacher "sick out" and other labor problems.
"We cannot afford to drag this out," he said. "You sew the seeds of bad faith with a prolonged dispute."
November 1, 2008; 8:29 AM ET
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