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AFT Probes Charges in Chicago Union Election

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High-ranking officials of the American Federation of Teachers held a hearing in Chicago last week to examine allegations that the city's teachers' union held an unfair election last spring.

Deborah Lynch Walsh, who lost to Thomas H. Reece in her bid for the presidency of the 30,000-member Chicago Teachers Union, asked the national union in June to look into the local affiliate's voting procedures. ("Union Election Puts Reform on Chicago Ballot," May 15, 1996.)

Last month, the AFT's executive council authorized the investigation by two vice presidents, Herb Magidson and James McGarvey. But officials cautioned that the probe does not indicate wrongdoing.

"In undertaking these investigations, we don't make any judgments at the outset about the merits or validity of the complaint," Edward J. McElroy, the AFT's secretary-treasurer, said in a statement. "We simply investigate."

Ms. Walsh, a special education teacher who won 28 percent of the vote, complained about the union's voting procedures before the May 17 election. But her appeal to Mr. Reece, an incumbent who was seeking his second term as president, and to the union's election committee was rejected.

She also unsuccessfully lobbied the local union's policymaking body, the house of delegates, to change its election rules.

Lack of Control?

In her complaint, Ms. Walsh, a former employee of both the national and local unions, charges that the election was dominated by the incumbent candidates. She is seeking a new election.

The United Progressive Caucus, the slate headed by Mr. Reece that runs the CTU, made all the decisions about the election and did not adequately control the ballots, her complaint charges.

The union refused to disclose the number of ballots printed or to account for unused and spoiled ballots, Ms. Walsh said, which created the possibility of tampering.

The ballots also were in the hands of caucus members while the voting materials were shuttled from schools to drop-off points to the union office, and finally to the tabulating company that counted the votes, she said.

The message sent to challengers of the incumbent slate, Ms. Walsh said in an interview last week, is "why even bother, it's so rigged."

Jackie Gallagher, a CTU spokeswoman, said Ms. Walsh's slate of challengers didn't have enough members to adequately monitor the voting.

"If she can prove any of these silly accusations, more power to her," Ms. Gallagher said. "We welcome the opportunity to finally be cleared once and for all."

The AFT vice presidents assigned to look into the allegations will report back to the national union's executive committee, which will decide whether to pursue the matter.

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