- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor has found voting irregularities in the first Washington Teachers Union election since an embezzlement scandal landed its former president in prison.

The Labor Department says the 4,500-member union should be forced to hold a new election under the supervision of the federal government, according to a lawsuit it filed against the union in U.S. District Court last week.

The union “failed to mail a ballot to each member in good standing … denying those members the right to vote,” the department’s complaint states.

In addition, the union allowed ineligible voters to cast ballots, and officials failed to mail election notices to members 15 days before the election as required by federal law, according to the department.

“The violations … may haveaffected the outcome of the defendant’s elections,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit is a troubling development for local union leaders seeking to rebuild the organization’s sullied image after embezzlement scandal stripped the union of local control in 2003.

“The Department of Labor did an extensive investigation, and the good news is they found no wrongdoing,” union President George Parker said yesterday. “It boiled down to some inaccuracies on the membership list.”

The elections occurred when the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) controlled the local union, Mr. Parker said.

The AFT took over the local union in January 2003, after top union leaders resigned amid an embezzlement scandal involving millions of dollars in stolen teacher dues.

Former union President Barbara Bullock pleaded guilty to conspiracy and is serving nine years in prison. Former office manager Gwendolyn M. Hemphill and treasurer James O. Baxter were convicted last summer and are awaiting sentencing.

The Labor Department’s complaint does not relate to the embezzlement scandal. Rather, it cites procedural violations of various union election requirements under the federal Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959.

The Labor Department wants the union to hold new elections for the offices of union president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and several other posts, according to the complaint.

The Labor Department’s investigation stemmed from complaints from four union members, including a candidate for the organization’s presidency.

The Labor Department said it investigated the complaints and found “probable cause” that violations occurred during the union’s Dec. 28, 2004, election and during its Jan. 26, 2005, runoff.

Mr. Parker yesterday called the Labor Department’s lawsuit “a temporary setback in terms of our image.”

“We’re in the process of trying to rebuild the union,” Mr. Parker said. “We’re just going to have to prevail and move on.”

It is not clear whether the Labor Department’s lawsuit will affect the union’s next elections, set for early next year.

“Our attorneys are reviewing the complaint and once we have an opportunity to discuss, we’ll make some decisions,” Mr. Parker said.

“Based on preliminary information, we don’t believe there was anything widespread,” he said.

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