- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Washington Teachers Union and its parent organization last year ruled that four members’ complaints over election irregularities did not warrant further investigation, even though federal regulators later found problems so widespread that they now want to force a new election, documents show.

The Labor Department says its investigation into the local union elections last year and in 2004 showed ineligible voting as well as members who did not receive ballots, denying them the right to vote. The investigation was prompted from challenges filed by four union members, including one who ran unsuccessfully for the union’s presidency.

Seeking a court order to void the election results, federal regulators filed a lawsuit Feb. 15 in federal court in the District against the 4,500-member union. The complaint says the irregularities might have swayed results.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which ran the election and operated the local union for two years after an embezzlement scandal, has sent letters to local teachers defending the elections as “neutral and fair.”

The elections, held in December 2004 and January 2005, were the first since Barbara A. Bullock resigned as Washington Teachers Union president amid an embezzlement scandal in 2002.

George Springer, the AFT administrator who ran the local union after the Bullock episode, told teachers in a letter Thursday that the Labor Department had found “procedural shortcomings in the election, a conclusion with which we disagree.”

The letter said the AFT reviewed the election challenges last year but ultimately decided that the complaints “failed to meet their burden of proof.”

The local union found the complaints “without merit,” Mr. Springer wrote.

By contrast, the Labor Department’s complaint filed earlier this month states that Washington Teachers Union election “violations … may have affected the outcome of the defendant’s elections.”

The four union members who filed the original challenges said they felt vindicated by the Labor Department’s findings, but did not celebrate the decision.

“I have mixed feelings,” said Elizabeth Davis, who was defeated in her bid for the union’s presidency. “I’m reluctant to see the federal government getting involved in local union matters. But on the other hand, this situation needs to be addressed if we’re going to clean up our union.

“I don’t believe that the Washington Teachers Union and the AFT ever gave any credence to what we were telling them,” she said. “It’s repeating the same old practice of pretending not to know.”

In May 2005, the AFT sent Miss Davis and union members Jerome Brocks, Benita J. Nicholson and Vernita Jefferson — who also filed challenges — a letter informing them that a preliminary investigation into their complaints found “there is not sufficient cause to proceed to a full investigation.”

Acknowledging “certain imperfections” with the membership list used to send ballots, the AFT said a preliminary investigation found “no indication that these inaccuracies affected the outcome of the election.”

Mr. Brocks, former chairman of the political action committee for the union, who campaigned for another candidate for the presidency, said the AFT and the Washington Teachers Union have sent mailings and placed phone calls to thousands of members since the Labor Department filed its lawsuit.

“What they’re doing with these mailings and calls is damage control,” Mr. Brocks said.

“But what happened here was a lot more than procedural shortcomings,” he said. “The law was broken; that’s what the federal government is saying here.”

Mr. Springer’s letter told teachers that the Labor Department’s complaint stemmed from challenges filed by “several members of the losing slate of candidates.”

Miss Nicholson, who ran for the union’s vice presidency, said the challenges were filed to ensure “due process and the protection of the members’ democratic rights.”

“It’s not personal,” she said.

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