Judge halts AFT takeover of WTU election
Updated 9:17 pm
The American Federation of Teachers acted improperly by intervening in the Washington Teachers' Union's internal dispute over the timing of its officer elections, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. But U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly also left the door open for the AFT to try again.
The WTU was supposed to have its elections in the spring, but disagreements about the role and composition of an internal elections committee brought the process to a halt. WTU President George Parker and the union's executive committee want to postpone until November, when they say they'll have an accurate idea of who is a dues paying member in the 2010-11 school year.
The AFT, arguing that the delay compromised union democracy, declared an emergency "administratorship" on Aug. 4 to conduct the election in mid-September, with ballot counting to be completed by early October. After the WTU filed a motion to enjoin AFT's action, AFT responded with its own motion asserting its right to intervene.
Underlying the dispute is a fight over the composition of the WTU electorate. The AFT wants teachers who were dues paying WTU members as of last June 30 to be able to vote. Parker says that will include many teachers who have since been fired or who have retired, making them ineligible under union rules, which require voters to be dues-paying members at the time that they vote. Parker said it would open the election to a legal challenge and effectively disenfranchise hundreds of new teachers who started last month and were not union members on June 30.
Critics say Parker has another agenda, which is to shape the electorate to eliminate a group of teachers less likely to vote for his re-election, because they are unhappy with their dismissals or with the new contract he signed with DCPS.
Kollar-Kotelly said the AFT did not have reasonable grounds to believe that emergency action was necessary, and that it did not follow federal labor law by holding a proper hearing. But she added that if AFT follows the rules (a hearing is scheduled for Sept. 10) they stand a better chance of succeeding because the law weighs in favor of parent union organizations in such matters.
"The Court does note that once an administratorship is established pursuant to proper procedures, the presumption of validity under [federal law] insulates it from attack except upon clear and convincing evidence that it was not established or maintained in good faith..."
Nevertheless, Parker said last night that it was a win for WTU. "Certainly we're pleased," he said, adding that it vindicates the executive board's decision not to follow the Aug. 4 order from AFT. "Even if you're a parent organization you have to follow the rules," he said.
In a statement this evening, AFT president Randi Weingarten said she was pleased that the court recognized AFT's right to take action. "We respectfully disagree, however, that the court's decision does not require immediate action. An election that should have been held months ago is now further delayed," Weingarten said.
"Nonetheless, the court laid out a blueprint for moving ahead."
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