WTU elections muddle deepens
Washington Teachers' Union president George Parker continues to take serious heat for his handling of officer elections, which were supposed to take place in May, but now appear to be sliding into September. On Friday, an attorney for general vice president Nathan Saunders, one of Parker's two re-election opponents, filed a complaint with the Department of Labor alleging that Parker has improperly tampered with the conduct of the contest.
This is more than an arcane, intramural dispute. The next president of the WTU will play a key role in working with DCPS to implement the details of the new contract. Saunders and the other presidential candidate, Phelps High School teacher Elizabeth Davis, have been deeply critical of Parker's handling of the contract talks.
Parker's problems began this spring when he failed to submit signed petitions required for re-nomination by the April 30 deadline specified in union rules. But Parker and his partner in negotiating the contract, the American Federation of Teachers, said the deadline was void because the union's elections committee, which oversees conduct of the contests, was never legally constituted. That's because last year, only five teachers even submitted nominating petitions to run for the 15-member panel. They apparently took their seats on the committee without an election.
The AFT, whose president, Randi Weingarten, invested significant time and political capital in the contract, intervened at Parker's request and ruled that a full elections committee needed to be elected and seated. That happened at the end of May.
Parker's problem is that the new panel is made up mostly of Saunders and Davis supporters. The panel is ready to proceed with an election--with Parker not on the ballot because he blew the April 30 deadline. But Parker, backed by union lawyer Lee Jackson, says that there was no legal elections committee on April 30, so there was no deadline. He also maintains, per an opinion from Jackson, that the WTU executive committee--a more Parker-friendly venue--will set an election date and a new deadline for petitions.
At Monday's D.C. Council hearing on the contract, which comes up for a vote next week, Parker tried his best to explain the Byzantine workings of the WTU. "There are political differences within the WTU," he said, a significant understatement.
"This is harder than Florida, George," said Council member Harry Thomas, Jr. (D-Ward Five), who said he'd received numerous complaints from union members.
"There is a huge feeling of people feeling like they've been disenfranchised in the process," Thomas said.
CORRECTION:The post above mistakenly reported that George Parker was solely responsible for the AFT's intervention in the elections committee matter. Parker rightly pointed out Tuesday afternoon that it was Saunders' initial protest to the Department of Labor and the AFT over Parker's handling of the committee that triggered Weingarten's involvement. Only after that, Parker said, did he join Saunders in asking the AFT to get involved.
Washington Post Editors
June 21, 2010; 3:04 PM ET
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