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WTU runoff underway
(Published January 10, 2005)

Staff Writer

A run-off election between the top two candidates will determine the winner of a close race for president of the Washington Teachers Union after neither candidate received the required majority vote. But the race’s third-place candidate argues the election was flawed and plans to appeal the results to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Ballots tabulated Dec. 28 showed that George Parker and Rachel Hicks emerged as the leading candidates who will compete in the run-off election. A total of 1,358 out of 4,400 teachers eligible to vote cast ballots in the election.

Parker, a teacher at Eliot Junior High School, and Hicks, a union field representative, received 520 and 514 votes, respectively. Elizabeth Davis, a teacher at Sousa Middle School, and Cleopatra Lawton, a teacher at P.R. Harris Educational Center, got 288 and 36 votes, respectively.

Although they received the most votes of the four candidates, neither Parker nor Hicks obtained the 50 percent majority of total votes cast that is required of them by the union constitution to clinch the win.

Run-off ballots were distributed on Jan. 6 and will be counted on Jan. 26. Members have until Jan. 18 to request replacement ballots for ones that are lost or destroyed, said Terence Cooper, a spokesman for the union.

One week prior to the announcement of the election results, Davis called for a suspension of the balloting process that was underway, alleging that the election was being performed under guidelines and a union constitution that were not approved by the membership.

Davis could not be reached for comment. But according to a press release dated Dec. 22, she said another union constitution was formed in addition to the one voted on by union members. This other constitution, the one running the current election, contains provisions that were created and adopted by an appointed administrator for the WTU and its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, that were never made known to the union membership, she said.

"The available evidence indicates that these elections are being run on constitutional guidelines that were fraudulently revised and adopted on Oct. 21, 2004," Davis said in the press release. "Many members of our union have not even seen these guidelines."

But even if the allegedly unapproved guidelines had been included in the constitution voted on by union members, Davis said the entire voting process for the new constitution "was hopelessly compromised" by several irregularities.

Seventy-percent of the union membership voted for a revised constitution in October, said George Springer, who has been running the local teachers’ union as an AFT-appointed administrator since its previous officers were removed under the cloud of an embezzlement scandal. Former WTU president Barbara Bullock currently is serving a federal prison term for her part in the scheme, while others have either also agreed to plea bargains or are awaiting trial.

But Davis said field representatives, building representatives and Springer persuaded union members to vote in favor of the revised constitution by telling them they had to do so in order to end the administratorship and restore power to the membership. She said Springer told members at a meeting in October "that if they failed to vote for the revised WTU constitution, he would recommend to the American Federation of Teachers that his administratorship be extended again," which would delay the election.

Springer said someone asked at the meeting what would happen if the revised constitution was not approved and he responded by saying he "would not recommend that the administratorship end until the union gets a vote on a constitution." There was more wrong with the union than corrupt individuals, he said, and the union needed to adopt a new, stronger constitution before restoring power to the membership.

The union administrator also refuted Davis’s claims of "fraudulently revised" election guidelines by saying that when the rules were presented to the membership at a meeting, he "didn’t hear any great dissent" or "objections" to them.

Davis alleged that several schools did not receive copies of the revised constitution or ballots to vote for it, and that many teachers did not receive them until the day before they were required to vote on it, which was not sufficient time to review it, she said.

"We must have new elections run under rules in a properly adopted constitution," Davis stated in the press release. "This means that members must have time to review, discuss and vote on a proposed constitution that is not altered in any way after it has been approved."

Cooper said union members voted on the constitution that was adopted and that is being used, and said he didn’t believe it was possible they could have voted for the constitution without having seen a copy of it. They had meetings on the proposed revisions, he said, as well as a constitution committee consisting of rank and file members to ensure information was disseminated to the membership.

Copies of the revised constitution along with ballots were mailed to every school and hand delivered to union members by building representatives, Cooper said. The members signed off on a list when they received their copy, each of which had the revisions boldfaced so they would be easier to see, he said

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator