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Published in Print: July 14, 2004, as Chicago Union Leaders Ask AFT To Resolve Vote Dispute

Chicago Union Leaders Ask AFT To Resolve Vote Dispute

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The American Federation of Teachers’ executive council last week was weighing whether to conduct a full investigation into the election for president of its Chicago affiliate.

A runoff election last month appeared to give challenger Marilyn Stewart a narrow victory, but that vote was invalidated by a union committee still under the control of Deborah Lynch, the incumbent president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

The local union’s canvassing committee announced late last month that it had evidence of fraud in the June 11 election results and called for a new runoff.

Ms. Stewart almost immediately denounced that decision.

"It’s frustrating," said AFT spokesman Alex Wohl. "We have two sides claiming they are right."

Both sides are also claiming the right to run the 33,000-member union for the time being.

Ms. Lynch even had the locks on the union offices changed in order to keep Ms. Stewart from assuming the presidency.

The incumbent also suggested that the AFT appoint a temporary administration to run the organization until the matter is resolved, but Mr. Wohl called the request "putting the cart before the horse."

Ms. Stewart also quickly rejected the idea, and has filed suit in federal court in an effort to claim the presidency.

Under normal circumstances, Ms. Stewart, a special education teacher who represents the union faction that held sway for 30 years, would have taken office July 1. In fact, about a dozen union employees had received pink slips from her incoming administration and were clearing out when word came of the canvassing committee’s decision.

If the AFT’s executive council decides to proceed with an investigation, it will appoint a committee, which will then conduct a hearing.

Absentee Voters?

Meanwhile, the rules and election committee for the Chicago union voted last week to hold a new election by mail. According to local news reports, the ballots would be distributed in late August and be counted Sept. 13.

Howard L. Heath, the vice president of the CTU and a member of Ms. Lynch’s slate, said that among the discrepancies suggesting election fraud were 600 unreturned ballots and questionable signatures on voting lists. Also, an unusually large number of teachers—more than 100—appeared to have voted though they were not at work on polling day, according to district records, he said.

But Ms. Stewart disputed the evidence. She also questioned the authority of the canvassing committee to overturn the election and noted that at Ms. Lynch’s behest, the American Arbitration Association had run the election, which was necessary after none of four candidates won more than half the vote.

In the runoff, the tally was 11,586 for Ms. Stewart and 11,020 for Ms. Lynch.

"Ms. Lynch … has abused her authority to manipulate the results of the election," Ms. Stewart charged in prepared remarks that she delivered following the invalidation. She called for her opponent to step down "for the sake of the union."

But Mr. Heath said Ms. Lynch’s team was staying. "We’ll be here until the election or until the AFT tells us to get out," he said.

Assistant Editor Linda Jacobson contributed to this report.

Vol. 23, Issue 42, Page 20

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