- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing into the teachers union scandals that have erupted over the last several months.

It’s about time. Thanks to lax oversight, union chiefs pilfered and misused hundreds of thousands of dollars from teachers’ representation funds. So far, the greatest scandals have been in the Washington Teachers Union (WTU) and the Union Teachers of Dade (UTD) in Miami. The abuses are staggering, and in some cases salacious. For instance, in Miami:

• UTD president Pat Tornillo allegedly spent $175.73 on a pair of python-print pajamas. The matching robe cost another $149.10.

• UTD members also reportedly paid for Mr. Tornillo and his wife to get back in touch through several sessions at the “Better Relationships, Better Sex,” Sinclair Intimacy Institute.

• Despite the fact that Mr. Tornillo had $42,700 in his salary allocated to cover union expenses, he still used thousands of UTD dollars to cover domestic expenses such as liquor, groceries, Christmas gifts and phone bills. According to the Miami Herald, Mr. Tornillo also paid his maid with UTD money.

• Mr. Tornillo even set up a reserve fund of UTD money for himself and a few associates, to be paid out when they retired — he is scheduled to receive approximately $663,000.

While the scandals in Washington have not been quite as salacious, they have been just as startling:

• Former WTU President Barbara Bullock is believed to have misspent nearly $1 million in union dues, including $500,000 at a custom-made clothier in Baltimore.

• Ms. Bullock’s special assistant, former WTU Special Assistant Gwen Hemphill, spent nearly $13,000 in union money to purchase a flat-screen plasma television set.

• Between September 1997 and October 2000, James Baxter picked up $130,000 for his work as WTU Treasurer, even though he was concurrently earning over $96,000 as the Director of the D.C. Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining.

Mr. Baxter’s double salary wasn’t picked up on because the WTU hasn’t filed its required biennial internal audit of its affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), since 1995. The AFT actively refused such a commonsense responsibility. After a D.C. teacher filed a lawsuit to impose a court monitor over AFT’s oversight of the WTU’s finances, AFT President Sandra Feldman even sent union attorneys to court to insist that the AFT had no legal obligation to review WTU audits.

Since then the AFT has taken greater control of the WTU and the UTD, but additional monitoring is called for in both Miami and Washington.

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