Teaching Profession

AFT Conducts Probe of Election In Chicago

By Bess Keller — September 21, 2004 3 min read
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The American Federation of Teachers was expected late last week to have completed its investigation into who is the rightful president of the Chicago Teachers Union. A panel sent by the AFT will also decide whether the local union under President Deborah Lynch was acting properly when it invalidated the results of the election that appeared to unseat her.

Earlier this month, the national union’s top leaders voted to hold a formal hearing July 22-23 on the dispute that has thrown the Chicago local into disarray. Both Ms. Lynch and challenger Marilyn Stewart claim the presidency of the 33,000-member CTU following a June 11 runoff election.

In the past four weeks, since a union committee overseen by Ms. Lynch invalidated the runoff results and called for a new election, the camps 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. (“Chicago Union Leaders Ask AFT to Resolve Vote Dispute,” July 14, 2004.)

Meanwhile, the CTU’s bank froze the local’s accounts and sought a court ruling on who controls the purse strings, and lawyers for both sides had to work out an agreement about which union employees would get paychecks this month. A state court judge in Illinois decided last week that the union as headed by Ms. Lynch could for now make routine payments.

Ms. Lynch’s protests also delayed the seating of delegates elected on the same slate as Ms. Stewart to the parent union’s biennial convention this month. (“Union Delegates Give New Leader Go-Ahead to Attack Federal Law,” this issue.)

Ms. Lynch, in fact, who brought none from her slate, opposed the recognition of any delegates until the election issue could be resolved.

Delegates from the Stewart slate eventually were seated with most, but not all, of their powers intact. About 90 of the local’s 150 delegates paid their own way to the convention, hoping for reimbursement later. Others could not afford to come, Ms. Stewart’s team said.

Earlier, Ms. Lynch changed the locks on the union’s offices to keep out Ms. Stewart and her lieutenants.

Procedures and Substance

Ms. Lynch contends that a new election should be held. After the CTU’s canvassing committee threw out the June runoff results, another committee of the local union scheduled an election by mail from late August to Sept. 13.

But Ms. Stewart denounced the plan for a vote to supersede the one that gave her a 566-vote margin of victory. She requested the AFT investigation, while Ms. Lynch has told Chicago newspapers that the parent union has no say over CTU proceedings except to decide whether the union’s constitution has been violated.

Edward J. McElroy, just before stepping up from AFT secretary-treasurer to president at the convention, told Ms. Lynch in a letter early this month that she should cede control while the fraud charges are being assessed. She has refused.

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

The panel is to have investigated both procedural and substantive matters, including whether the canvassing committee had enough evidence to invalidate the election, and whether the CTU committee could overturn the vote under the national union’s constitution, a spokesman for the AFT said.

Leaders of both factions said it’s time for the conflict to be over.

Mary McGuire, the recording secretary from the Stewart slate, 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.”

Ms. Lynch said in a statement that 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,” Ms. Lynch added.

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A version of this article appeared in the July 28, 2004 edition of Education Week as AFT Conducts Probe of Election In Chicago

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