AFT Affirms Chicago Union Vote

By Bess Keller — August 06, 2004 3 min read

Marilyn Stewart fairly unseated incumbent Deborah Lynch in the contest for president of the Chicago Teachers Union and should be recognized immediately as its new head, the local union’s national parent announced Aug. 6.

The American Federation of Teachers found “no grounds for overturning” the June 11 runoff election, which Ms. Stewart appeared to win by a narrow margin. The results of that vote, however, were tossed out by a union committee under Ms. Lynch, which cited evidence of possible fraud and also called for a new election.

“Although many allegations of fraud and other improprieties were made by Deborah Lynch, after exhaustive review of the facts and far-reaching opportunity provided to Ms. Lynch and her attorneys to demonstrate purported fraud, [the AFT investigation committee] ... found no evidence of ballot tampering, fraud, or any other wrongdoing,” the national union said in a statement.

The committee also obliquely reprimanded Ms. Lynch’s team for the way it tried to nullify the election. “The process by which certain information regarding alleged election improprieties was collected and presented to [the local committee that invalidated the election] was fundamentally flawed and lacked due process,” the statement complained. AFT leaders met with the two rivals early on Aug. 6 to reveal the committee’s decision, which had the endorsement of the national union’s executive committee.

“It was a remarkably smooth transition,” said Alex Wohl, a spokesman for the AFT. “Deborah Lynch agreed to assist with the transition. It began immediately.”

Despite that agreement, Ms. Lynch made clear that she disagreed with the outcome, claiming that the AFT did not have the right to overturn decisions made by separate CTU committees to invalidate the election results and to call a new election.

“We disagree strongly with the AFT decision for its complete lack of attention to the evidence at hand and for its total disregard of the sovereignty of the CTU and the integrity of its processes,” Ms. Lynch said in a statement.

Nevertheless, she said, “we will abide by the AFT’s decision and step aside.”

At the same time, Ms. Lynch noted that her slate would bring the election fraud issues to the attention of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Aspects of Conflict

The nation’s third-largest teachers’ local, with 33,000 members, has been riven by conflict since late June when the union committee declared the election invalid.

With Ms. Lynch claiming she should stay in office until a new election, the two sides battled over the CTU’s offices, purse strings, and representation at the national convention in July.

Ms. Stewart, whose faction had run the union for 30 years before Ms. Lynch’s upset victory in 2001, asked the AFT to investigate Ms. Lynch’s charges of fraud.

In response, the AFT’S top leaders sent three big-city union presidents to Chicago to hear evidence both on whether the election was invalid and whether union committees under Ms. Lynch had exercised their powers within the local and national unions’ constitutions. The panel made its decision after hearing some 11 hours of testimony two weeks earlier.

Many observers believe Ms. Stewart, a longtime teacher of children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, is likely to step back from the education reform agenda that has brought Ms. Lynch national attention. Ms. Stewart has said she wants to refocus the union on member services and move away from “a major shift to staff development” that she contends happened under Ms. Lynch, who has a long background in teacher professional development with the CTU and the AFT.

In the campaign, Ms. Stewart criticized Ms. Lynch for negotiating a contract last fall with such givebacks as increased health-insurance costs. Many teachers disliked the contract, which led their representative body to authorize a strike, but some disliked even more Ms. Lynch’s vehement defense of it.