The American Federation of Teachers has adopted new accountability rules designed to prevent financial mismanagement in its local affiliates and to restore credibility following two scandals that have rocked the 1.2 million-member union over the past six months.
In a vote May 28, the union’s executive council gave President Sandra Feldman the power to mandate that affiliates obtain independent audits if they exhibit signs of trouble. Before taking such action, the AFT will, as a matter of course, notify those local unions that appear to be running into financial difficulty.
The changes signal the parent organization’s willingness to become more involved in local affairs, though AFT officials say it cannot and will not micromanage its 2,961 affiliates.
“Historically, our affiliates have had great autonomy, with little or no interference from the national, and this relationship has worked for many decades,” Ms. Feldman said in a statement. “But now, we’ve decided we need stricter oversight.”
The changes come after law-enforcement officers raided the 5,000-member Washington Teachers Union last January and the 16,000-member United Teachers of Dade in Miami a month ago. Barbara A. Bullock and Pat L. Tornillo, the presidents of the respective unions, are being investigated for suspected embezzlement as part of two separate schemes. (“Alleged Theft from D.C. Union Yield Probe,” Jan. 8, 2003, and “Authorities Raid Teachers’ Union in Miami-Dade,” May 7, 2003.) Neither has been charged in the ongoing investigations.
Mr. Tornillo told The New York Times he hopes to clear his name.
The District of Columbia and Miami- Dade County locals have been placed under AFT administratorship. Both are AFT affiliates, though the National Education Association shares responsibility for United Teachers of Dade.
“Somebody has to step in,” said Wellford W. Wilms, the director of the educational leadership program at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The Washington [national] office has no choice but to take action.”
Under the new rules, Ms. Feldman will require external audits when local affiliates fall behind in paying their national dues or if they fail to submit biennial audits. Those in arrears for two months will be notified in writing; failure to pay for 30 days will result in notification of the local union’s executive board and its state affiliate. Should another 30 days go by, the AFT will directly inform the rank and file.
Such procedures would have likely caught the financial troubles of both the District of Columbia and Miami-Dade affiliates, said Alex Wohl, an AFT spokesman.
The 2.7 million-member NEA will continue to rely on its current accountability procedures.