AFT to Review Chicago Election Dispute

By Bess Keller — July 15, 2004 2 min read

The American Federation of Teachers has decided to investigate whether its Chicago affiliate was justified in throwing out the results of a runoff election that appeared to unseat the incumbent president.

Two days before the start of its July 14-17 convention here, the national union’s top leaders voted to hold a formal hearing on the dispute that has thrown the Chicago Teachers Union into disarray. Both incumbent Deborah Lynch and challenger Marilyn Stewart claim the presidency of the 33,000-member CTU following a June 11 runoff election.

Edward J. McElroy, the secretary-treasurer of the AFT, cautioned in a written statement that the parent union’s decision “is not a judgment on the merits, but simply an indication that the evidence presented warrants an investigation.”

In the past two weeks, since a union committee overseen by Ms. Lynch invalidated the runoff results and called for a new election, the leaders have been bitterly accusing each other of putting personal interests above those of the union. Ms. Lynch claims evidence of possible election fraud that Ms. Stewart rejects.

Meanwhile, the Chicago union’s bank is seeking a court ruling on who controls the purse strings of the CTU, and lawyers for both sides have had to work out an agreement about which union employees will get paychecks this month. Most of the members of the Chicago union’s delegation paid their own way to the national union’s biannual conference themselves, hoping for reimbursement later.

Another committee of the union local has scheduled an election by mail from late August to Sept. 13.

Ms. Stewart denounced the plan for an election to supersede the one that gave her a 566-vote margin of victory. She requested the AFT investigation.

Mr. McElroy, who is running for president of the AFT, told Ms. Lynch in a letter early this month that she should cede control while the fraud charges are being assessed. She has refused.

In a press release issued July 12, Ms. Lynch said she welcomed the AFT’s investigation.

“We look forward to the AFT’s review and believe they will find that all the actions of CTU committees are in accordance with the AFT and CTU constitutions,” she said. “We are also pleased that this review will be held in a very timely fashion for the sake of maintaining a strong and cohesive union.”

The national union’s executive council, which made the decision to hold the hearing, appointed presidents of the New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore locals to hear testimony and help resolve the dispute.

Chicago delegates to the convention, who were elected on Ms. Stewart’s slate, said it’s time for the conflict to be over.

Mary McGuire, who was elected recording secretary of the local in June, deplored the weakened state of the union just as Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is pursuing a controversial plan to convert at least 10 percent of the district’s approximately 600 schools into smaller schools, most of which will be run by private operators, by 2010.

Noting that teachers were not likely to be union members in most of the resulting 100 or so small schools, Ms. McGuire said: “We should be involved in [the mayor’s plan]; we are instead engaged in in-house fighting.”