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Saunders To Announce For WTU President

Washington Teachers' Union general vice president Nathan Saunders, an outspoken critic of WTU president George Parker, says he will challenge Parker for union leadership in its May election.

Saunders' candidacy raises at least the possibility that if Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee fails to secure a new contract with the WTU before spring, she could be dealing with a union president who qualifies as her worst nightmare.

Saunders and Parker ran on a reform ticket in 2005 after the WTU was devastated by a financial scandal that sent president Barbara Bullock to federal prison as the central figure in the theft of more than $4 million in union funds. But the two have long been at odds over the union's approach to labor relations and school reform.

Saunders, whose mother-in-law, Jimmie Jackson, served as WTU president before she was ousted by Bullock, represents a segment of union membership implacably hostile to Rhee's program. He has charged Parker with making a shambles of negotiations with DCPS for a new contract to replace the one that expired at the end of 2007, cutting union leaders out of the talks. Saunders has also said that Parker has collaborated with Rhee in an unseemly manner, and tried to lead the union into Rhee's proposed "two-tier" salary plan that would have weakened tenure protections for some teachers. Parker has also taken heat from Saunders and other union critics for what was viewed as the union's weak showing in court during a hearing on its lawsuit to reinstate 266 teachers and staff laid off by Rhee in October.

Relations between the two leaders deteriorated to the point where Saunders sued Parker in 2008, charging that he had violated Saunders's free speech rights by barring him from speaking on behalf of the union. The suit was not successful.

"Teachers are more besieged today than ever," Saunders said in a statement released Thursday morning. "The collective bargaining agreement is expired by three years, working conditions have deteriorated, and teachers are working harder for less money under greater pressure."

Saunders' formal announcement is scheduled for 5:30 Saturday at the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women.

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  January 7, 2010; 10:41 AM ET
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