Election flap pits Saunders against Parker, AFT
While the Fenty administration searches for a way to finance the proposed teachers' contract, the troubled pact has also spawned a dispute within the WTU leadership over its elections.
The contest, usually held May, has yet to be scheduled. General vice president Nathan Saunders, who is challenging union president George Parker, says Parker and AFT president Randi Weingarten don't want teachers filling out ballots until they ratify the contract and have the pact's fat five-year, 20 percent raise in their pockets. The assumption is that it will make them more favorably disposed to returning Parker to office.
"Without a doubt," said Saunders. "They're stalling."
The dispute involves the union elections committee, the internal panel that runs certain aspects of the contest. It's supposed to have 15 members but currently has only four. Delegate slots to the national AFT convention have also gone wanting, with only 17 of 44 actually filled. As it happens, one of the spots on the elections committee is held by Saunders' wife. And as it also happens, one of Saunders' official duties as vice president is to convene the election committee, which he says he intends to do on Friday.
But in a letter to WTU members Thursday, Weingarten said it will be "necessary to reopen nominations to allow you to exercise your constitutional right to elect representatives" to elections committee and the convention. It's not clear from Weingarten's letter how long this might take.
Weingarten also writes that at Parker's and Saunders's request, "the AFT will provide assistance of very narrow scope, pursuant to our constitutional authority to resolve election disputes in AFT locals."
Saunders said the election committee has never had a complete membership, so the sudden concern about its composition is bogus. He also said he never asked AFT to intervene in the election, only to clarify the rules. He said that with Weingarten's stake in the ratification of the contract, the notion of AFT's involvement in the contest is ludicrous. Saunders made an unsuccessful attempt to get the Dept. of Labor to oversee the race.
"It is absolutely crazy," Saunders said. "The AFT can't hold an impartial election."
Parker did not return a phone message Thursday.
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April 29, 2010; 9:17 PM ET
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