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Teachers try to oust union leader

On eve of election, WTU president charged with violating rules,

improperly overturning rank-and-file rejection of new contract

(Published May 17, 1999)


Staff Writer

Washington Teachers Union president Barbara Bullock has been accused of colluding with the mayor and school superintendent to improperly overturn a vote by the unionís membership on a new contract.

According to a complaint filed May 12 with the D.C. Public Employee Relations Board, Bullock allegedly violated union rules by holding a second, unauthorized mail-in vote on a contract that already had been rejected in part by rank-and-file members.

Four members of the American Federation of Teachers Local 6 filed affidavits alleging that Bullock independently agreed to ground rules for contract negotiations with management that were never ratified by members and then later used that agreement as grounds for ignoring a legitimate rank-and-file vote. Seventeen union members signed a petition May 3 charging she violated the union constitution and requesting that she be expelled from the presidency.

Bullock said she has not violated any union rules. She has 15 days to respond to the complaint, according to the employee relations board.

The charges against Bullock came just a week before ballots were to be counted on May 21 in a hotly contested race to determine the next president of the union. George Parker, one of Bullockís challengers, is a complainant in the case. Elizabeth Davis, another challenger, submitted a supporting affidavit.

Union members voted April 14 to accept only the compensation and benefits portion of the proposed contract and to reject the portion governing working conditions and grievance procedures.

The next day, Mayor Anthony A. Williams sent Bullock a letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Common Denominator, threatening to withdraw the 4.5 percent pay raise he had promised teachers and which they had already voted to accept unless the union accepted the entire contract.

"In light of the fact that (union) members voted to accept only the compensation and benefit conditions of the agreement and not the entire package, the pay raise cannot be issued," the mayor wrote. "I am allowing 15 days for ratification of the entire package."

Davis, a teacher at Sousa Middle School, said copies of Williamsí letter and a similar letter from Superintendent Arlene Ackerman were mailed to more than 4,000 teachers as "a scare tactic to pressure them into ratifying the tentative agreement."

Soon afterwards, teachers received ballots in the mail to vote again on the entire contract, which was eventually approved by a 4-1 margin.

The complaint asks the employee relations board to enforce the compensation part of the contract approved by union members in the April 14 vote and to send the non-compensation part back for re-negotiation.

The D.C. Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees, scheduled to approve the contract the very day the complaint was filed, hastily postponed action after learning of the litigation.

Bullock said the mail vote, counted on May 5, was perfectly valid because votes on separate parts of the proposed contract did not constitute a vote on the whole package, and that union rules do not give members the right to vote on parts of contracts. She said she obtained legal opinions from three law firms confirming that members were required to vote on the entire agreement and could not vote on separate parts.

But D.C. teacher Emily Washington, the teacher representative who serves on the appointed board of school trustees, and one of the complainants, said D.C. law gives public sector unions precisely that right.

"This right is granted to teachers by the D.C. Code," she said. "It cannot be waived by the president (of the union)."

An agreement between the union and school management signed June 24, 1998, governing ground rules for contract negotiations, stipulates that "in order for the agreement to be binding... the union must ratify the entire agreement."

Union members said they never voted on that agreement.

"This is an agreement our president entered into and the rank-and-file knew nothing about it," Washington said. "She gave away our rights."

Teachers originally objected to the non-compensation portion of the contract be-cause it did not protect teachers from being fired by capricious or vindictive principals, said Mary Baird Currie, a retired teacher who said she supports Bullockís removal.

"The contract would have made the principals and administrators into dictators," she said. "It would truly have been disastrous for teachers in this city."

Teachers also were concerned that language on student discipline was too vague and that the contract contained no provisions for monitoring the Local School Restructuring Teams, elected bodies that this year were held responsible for formulating major financial and academic policies at each school, said George Parker, another complainant.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator