- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) defended its handling of last year’s Washington Teachers Union elections yesterday, days after federal regulators sought to void the results because of irregularities that may have swayed the outcome.

George Springer, the AFT administrator who oversaw the voting, said officials made “an extensive effort” to reach the union’s 4,500 members, which resulted in high turnout.

However, the U.S. Department of Labor last week filed a lawsuit against the Washington Teachers Union in federal court in the District. The suit, which seeks to force the union to hold new elections, said some teachers never received ballots and others who were ineligible voted.

The union’s elections, held in December 2004 and January 2005, returned local control to the union after several former officials resigned amid an embezzlement scandal.

The AFT took over the local union in January 2003, after top union leaders resigned over the theft of millions of dollars in teacher dues.

Former union President Barbara A. 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, which does not relate to the embezzlement scandal, said investigators found instances in which ineligible voters cast ballots during the elections.

The complaint also states that officials failed to mail election notices and ballots to all members.

The violations “may have affected the outcome of the defendant’s elections,” the Labor Department’s complaint states.

The AFT yesterday called the problems “technical statutory violations.”

However, teacher Elizabeth Davis, one of four union members who filed complaints about election irregularities, yesterday said she and others tried to tell the AFT there were “serious problems” with the membership list used to inform members about the elections.

“All of the irregularities were sent to the AFT,” she said.

She also said the Labor Department would not have moved to void the elections unless they found serious violations.

“People who had left the school system years ago got ballots and were allowed to vote,” said teacher Jerome Brocks, who also filed a complaint.

Mr. Brocks said he and others who filed complaints also expressed concerns about activities of the union’s election committee.

Yesterday, Mr. Brocks, Miss Davis and teachers Vernita Jefferson and Benita Nicholson, who also filed complaints, sent notices to union members informing them about the Labor Department’s complaint.

The Washington Times reported about the complaint Monday.

“We believe that once the facts are reviewed, the WTU membership and the public will conclude that the election was conducted in the fairest and most democratic manner possible and that all candidates were afforded an equal and fair opportunity to be elected,” union President George Parker said yesterday.

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