Weingarten to WTU: Comply or else
AFT president Randi Weingarten says Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker has until noon Tuesday to comply with an Aug. 4 order to hold a mid-September election for new officers and delegates, or the contest will be taken out of his hands and conducted by the national parent organization.
In a letter to Parker on Monday, Weingarten said that unless AFT gets "an unequivocal sworn undertaking" from WTU complying with the order, an administrator "will be appointed effective forthwith and without further notice to restore the rights of members ... to secure and safeguard the vital records and assets of the WTU from immediate threat, and to take such actions as are necessary to protect the interests of the membership."
Elections were scheduled for May but held up because of a dispute over the legitimacy of an internal committee that handles some aspects of the contest. Parker and the union's executive committee reset the election for late November, contending that they wouldn't have accurate membership lists until later in the new school year. Also swirling in the mix is the long time feud between Parker and general vice president Nathan Saunders, once allies, but now opponents in the presidential race. The executive board voted to eliminate Saunders's $131,000 annual salary and withheld renewal of his leave of absence from classroom duties because of what it characterized as his refusal to account for the time he has spent on union business.
But after a July 21st hearing at AFT headquarters, Weingarten ordered a mid-September election with ballots to be counted Oct. 4, and said anyone who was an active member June 30 was eligible to vote. She also ordered Saunders placed back on the union payroll, calling the timing of the decision to zero out his salary "unfortunate."
In an Aug. 13 letter asking Weingarten to reconsider, Parker said Saunders is strictly a WTU matter. He also said the election orders are illegal and step on the prerogatives of the WTU executive committee. He contended that the June 30 eligibility cut-off would effectively disenfranchise hundreds of new teachers now in the process of signing up for union membership. (What he didn't say is that it might also allow teachers fired or excessed after that date -- union members who may might not look so favorably on reelecting Parker -- access to a ballot).
"We are greatly concerned about the damage caused by AFT's actions here," wrote Parker, who declined to comment on Weingarten's ultimatum early Monday evening because he had not spoken with his lawyers.
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