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The end is near for George Parker’s term as Washington Teachers’ Union President – but he doesn’t seem to think so. The WTU Elections Committee has accused Parker of withholding documents that would allow the committee to conduct new elections. These documents include nominating petitions, union membership lists, and union dues reports. Under the WTU’s constitution, the committee cannot elect a new president without them. Welcome to the jungle of union politics.
In an email sent to Parker by Elections Committee Chairwoman Claudette Carson, the frustration is clear: “Your previous and current dilatory actions do not allow the WTU to have elections as required. Your refusal to comply with the Elections Committee, WTU Constitution and law, unilaterally could bring, if left unchecked, the Elections Committee’s work to a halt.”
The salient question in the dispute is whether the Elections Committee’s nominating petitions are valid. WTU elections are held every three years. For each election cycle, committee candidates are required to submit a nominating petition signed by 20 union members. The committee has 15 spots to fill. During the nomination period last year, however, only five candidates received the 20 signatures necessary to be elected. After another two were added, three members dropped out due to retirements and layoffs. By the spring, the committee stood at four, not nearly enough for a quorum. Therefore, according to Parker, the committee could not be trusted to hold a legitimate election.
“The persons who submitted the petitions are trying to run a scam on our election,” Parker tells City Desk. “If we did an election with invalid petitions, we would have to do it over.”
Historically, however, the committee has almost never met the 15-member quota. “You can’t force people to take that office,” says blogger and WTU member Candi Peterson.
In April, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) opted to play the role as arbiter in another Election Committee nomination process, at Parker’s behest. This time, the 15-member quota would be met. Parliamentarian John Tatum, a non-elected official in the WTU, called the new Election Committee monitored by the AFT “bona fide,” and all nomination petitions filed before the current committee “null and void.”
The current debate picks up here: after the results for the AFT committee were announced last week, Carson requested that Parker deliver all the nominating petitions, membership lists and union dues reports. But now, Parker claims, it’s not his job.
“They’re trying to make it a George Parker issue,” says Parker. “The authority for this decision lies with the executive board.
No one seems exactly sure what Parker is up to. His term ends on June 30. Elections are usually scheduled on May 30. But, at the current pace of the debate, a new president won’t be elected until fall, when teachers return from summer break.
“To refuse to turn over this info is really holding 40,000 people hostage,” says Nathan Saunders, current union vice president and a candidate for the WTU presidency. “Teachers are livid and the implications are huge. It lowers the prestige of the organization, it invariably makes someone go to court to correct it, and it’s a waste of money.”
Peterson echoed this sentiment, but with less apocalyptic predictions: “Parker has run 100 times, so he certainly knew what to do. But for whatever reason he didn’t release the documents.”