AFT headed back into D.C. union election mess
An "exasperated" American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten is poised to step back into the Washington Teachers' Union election, now locked up in a lawsuit.
The contest to elect union officers was supposed to be held in May, with the winners taking office on July 1. But a series of internal disputes have landed the matter in D.C. Superior Court, where WTU general vice president Nathan Saunders, a candidate for the top spot, has accused incumbent George Parker of attempting to manipulate union rules to subvert the election.
Among other things, the suit alleges that Parker has withheld key documents from the union's elections committee and that the WTU executive board has improperly cut off Saunders' salary and put off the election until the fall.
A hearing on the suit, first reported by the Washington City Paper, was scheduled for Tuesday but then taken off the court calendar after Weingarten held a two-hour conference call Thursday evening with Parker, Saunders and their lawyers.
"I am exasperated with all sides," Weingarten said Tuesday in a phone interview from Seattle, where the AFT is holding its annual convention. "I said that it is our position that the elections process must commence immediately. I was also concerned that the executive board removed a candidate for president's salary."
Weingarten said she was not sure exactly what role AFT would take, but that the union "was reviewing all the options."
Jay R. Holland, Saunders' attorney, said all sides were "exploring ways to get the issues resolved and we hope to do so. If we cannot we will ask court to promptly put [the case] back on the calendar."
AFT already intervened once earlier this spring, after Parker disclosed that he had not filed petitions for renomination by the April 30 deadline. AFT essentially voided the due date, met by Saunders and the other presidential candidate, Phelps HS teacher Elizabeth Davis, because the union's internal elections committee, which oversees balloting, did not have the required 15 members. At the end of May, AFT supervised elections for a new elections panel, which was supposed to start the petition process all over again.
The problem for Parker was that it was filled with Saunders and Davis supporters. The complaint, brought by Saunders and elections committee chair Claudette Carson, said Parker repeatedly ignored the committee's requests to deliver nominating petitions and union membership lists so that the panel could begin administering the elections. The suit asks restoration of Saunders' salary, committee access to member lists and that Parker's name be kept off the ballot.
WTU attorneys say the matter belongs not in court but with the District of Columbia Public Employee Relations Board (PERB), the administrative agency that is supposed to enforce union standards of conduct.
Weingarten and Parker led WTU's negotiation of the new teachers contract with the District. The WTU's next president will have some influence over how the details of the deal are implemented. Saunders has been an outspoken critic of Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. But Weingarten said that is not why she is intervening.
"There's always that concern, but that's not a constitutional concern," she said. "The members have a right to an election."
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