City Desk

Lawsuit Filed as WTU Election Fiasco Gets Personal

Who, exactly, is in charge of Washington Teachers’ Union?

Current president George Parker’s term ended Thursday—at least as far as the union’s constitution is concerned. On July 1, new officers were supposed to take office. But the elections that would have determined who started a new three-year term then were never held—and now WTU’s leadership is locked in a court fight over what happens next. Vice president Nathan Saunders and the chairwoman of WTU’s election committee, Claudette Carson, have sued Parker for thwarting the election process and illegally cutting off Saunders’ salary.

Oh, and as it happens, Saunders is also Parker’s chief opponent to take over the union.

The dispute over when, and how, to hold this year’s elections goes back four months. Unlike the usual hubbub of union politicking, this election bears heavily on the implementation of the newly adopted teachers contract—which will raise salaries an average $20,000 and create a merit pay system. The constitution stipulates elections for senior officials are supposed to be conducted every three years on May 30. The union’s election committee, elected in the spring of each year and composed of 15 nominated union members, runs the whole thing. Usually, candidates for officer positions must submit a nominating petition with 20 signatures to the election committee by April 30.

But Parker failed to turn in his nominating petition by the deadline, claiming the election committee originally in place wasn’t legally constituted because it did not meet its 15-member quota; thus, he didn’t have to submit a petition (see City Paper’s previous article). Parker argued that the other 86 candidates who submitted their petitions on the deadline were “trying to run a scam on [the] election” by using invalid petitions.

“This is a throwback to the unions in the 30s and 40s,” Saunders told City Desk. “Parker is saying, ‘I didn’t bring my basketball to the court, so I’m taking everybody else’s basketball.’”

But Parker says otherwise: “What we have is Nathan Saunders playing an old-school election with invalid petitions.”

After the American Federation of Teachers—WTU’s parent organization—was called in to oversee the election of the 15 members of the election committee, it seemed Parker had nothing more to gripe about. The AFT decided to designate all future election decisions to the newly elected and legally constituted election committee, and would play no further role in the process. Parker, though, didn’t like the new election committee. So he kept withholding his nominating petition and refused to hand over the documents necessary to hold an election.

The complaint filed by Saunders and Carson (as you might expect) paints Parker as willfully obstructionist. During a meeting with Saunders, vice presidential candidate and blogger Candi Peterson, and AFT president Randi Weingarten, the complaint says, Parker told Weingarten, “I didn’t file my petition.” Weingarten responded, “George, you didn’t file your petition? I am stunned! I thought I had three candidates here representing three different slates, and I only have two.”

“Parker has run 100 times, so he certainly knew what to do,” Peterson told City Desk. “But for whatever reason he didn’t release the documents.”

Among his opponents, frustration with Parker’s conduct grew. When Carson, chairwoman of the Election Committee, requested that Parker deliver nominating petitions, union dues reports and the union’s only membership list in order to begin elections, Parker refused again. According to the complaint, Parker ignored Carson’s requests four times. Because the new election committee is composed of Saunders supporters, Parker’s solution was to transfer duties normally left with the election committee to the Parker-friendly executive board. With the unanimous support of the executive board, Parker decided all further elections would be postponed until fall, and that it was now the executive board’s duty to set election deadlines and provide the necessary documents.

To Saunders, that’s not fair. “The executive board never plays a role in the elections because they are candidates,” he says. “The election committee and executive board are not to be intertwined.”

Parker’s team is now making it personal, taking aim at Saunders, his main opponent. The board recently voted to revoke Saunders’s salary and refuse him a leave of absence. Since Saunders isn’t a teacher in DCPS, his salary is tied to the WTU payroll. The goal, Saunders and his allies think, is to force him to drop out of the running.

But beyond the personal disputes between Saunders and Parker, the indefinite suspension of the voting process has left many of the 4,000 teachers represented by the WTU feeling disenfranchised.

In an email sent to Parker by WTU member and Roosevelt High School teacher Thomas O’Rourke, the anger reaches a boiling point: “Your cynical manipulation and trampling of union democracy and worker tradition is both sad and disgusting and is directly responsible for the continuing decline of this union,” writes O’Rourke. “Know that, given the great amount of power under this Constitution you have, you will likely ignore this email and go on about your way, but know this: I, and others will make it our business to let the entire membership know of your nefarious conduct, your lack of accountability or even shame, and your cynical lies.”

It remains to be seen how the lawsuit transpires, but no one is too pleased about it.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to take these steps to go to court,” said Peterson.

As far as Parker is concerned, though, he’s still running the show. At a D.C. Council hearing two weeks ago, he told Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. that his term didn’t end until his successor took office.

“The term of office for all officers is three years,” Parker said. “Ok, so what?” said Thomas.

“Or until there – wait a minute.”

“Or until?”

“Or until their successors are elected,” concluded Parker. When that will be is now up to the court.

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  • Five To Go

    This is what George Parker, "the sell out" and Rhee supporter would do. Hold up the election for his own members. This loser and Ms. Rhee got what they wanted, and now the two of them "have their @$$ on their backs".
    They walk around feeling very full of their own glory. Well, what goes around, comes around. These two fools will be in court sooner, than you think, and they call themselves, leaders.

  • Truth Hurts

    Where's Vince "one city" Gray on this? Surely he can bring all stakeholders together without regard to race, creed, or color in a collaborative effort, with everyone at the table, to listen to differing viewpoints in a holistic approach and end management by ribbon cutting while empowering a strong chancellor to administer a transparent, accountable system that's not reliant on one person and empower birth to 24 education within the structure of inclusive charter opportunities that merge private and public entities to save the taxpayers money.

    DONATE HERE. CLICK HERE FOR A YARD SIGN. HONK IF YOU GOT CASH.

  • http://rickmangus@aol.com Rick Mangus

    CROOKS!, just like I have said in the past!

  • tired

    Hey truth hurts . why are you blaming Gray when obiviously this is sitting at your greatest policitian running Adrian I don't know anything Fenty? George Parker is a sell out and should be removed thank god he is not president of my union he would have been gone the turncoat. By the way if my taxes are paying your salary you need to look for another job.

  • Truth Hurts

    @ Tired: No worries. You're not now, nor will you ever be, paying my salary. As for taxes, fairly certain I've paid hundreds of thousands more than you have. All of it from income generated by my hard work and long hours. No taxes from you, no government grants/contracts, and no "salary". So please don't assume you know me -- you don't.

    You asked "why are you blaming Gray". Answer: I didn't. Read my comment.

    I asked a question: "Where's Vince one city Gray on this?" Granted, I continued on with lots of Vince-speak, poking fun at his lofty rhetoric and (in my view) mediocre record. Quite different from blaming him for this lawsuit. BTW, do you know if he sides with Parker or with those suing him? I don't.

    Assuming you know Gray's position, the next question I'd like answered is who, if anyone, Parker and those suing him support for mayor. Do you know? I don't. By the tone of your comment, though, I'm guessing you and the folks suing Parker support Gray. Doesn't make you're a good or bad person either way. We're a free country that thrives on reasoned and informed debate.

  • Sally

    The teachers deserve actual union leaders. Not the collection of hacks that collect paychecks without actually doing anything.

    And how do union officials get to represent teachers, without any of them actually being teachers? How can I get a nice no-work job like that?

  • Brahmin

    Ignore Truth Hurts he has a weird and strange obsession with Chairman Gray.

    He can't seem to quit him.

    This is completely disgusting. The teachers have gone to through too much with Gwen Hemphill and now this. The courts will obviously invalidate anything George Parker does after July 1, but why he can't see that is beyond reason. I love this town but you cannot always think you are the most important piece.

    I understand that Sharon Ambrose has endorsed Gray.

  • MAC

    Well the drama never ends......my question is where is the labor Department on this one? Weren't they there when George Parker ran against Rachel Hicks? Nothing will ever be right in that Union until you get rid of ALL of them. The house is in need of a cleaning....mentally and physically. And they had the nerve to talk about Barbara Bullock!

  • http://ABF ABF

    PAREKER HAS SOLD OUT TEACHERS LONG AGO, FENTY IS SITTING BACK ALLOWING THIS TO HAPPEN TO HIS RESIDENTS WHICH PROVES EVEN MORE WHY HE NEEDS TO GO.
    PARKER NEVER SUBMITTED BALLOTS BUT SAYS HE CAN CONTINUE HIS EXPIRED TERM AND GET PAID....BUT SAUNDERS CANNOT CONTINUE NOR BE PAID....FBI HELP US, OBAMA HELP US, DETROIT TOOK CARE OF THEIR FRAUD SO MAYBE WE NEED SOME HELP FROM THEM.

  • tired

    Truth Hurts you have a valid point and a honest debate I mean honest is always good. But I can not get passed Hizzoner's attitude and behaviour I don't owe him anything. The lives he has ruined to hell with him. And Parker is so corrupt he is in Michelle Rhee's back pocket , why did he avoid the same teachers who pays his salary? Parker needs to answer that question.

  • Truth Hurts

    Brahmin works for Gray's campaign as a strategist. And yet has the stones to ask people on CP's site (using an anonymous handle) to "ignore Truth Hurts". Precious.

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