Teachers union calls for AFT direction

Group asks for oversight during election inquiry

July 14, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

A week after an investigation was launched into the two-vote victory of a Baltimore Teachers Union president, the election committee is asking the American Federation of Teachers to oversee the local union until the dispute is resolved.

Ernestine LeCator, BTU election committee chairwoman, planned to send a letter yesterday to the American Federation of Teachers President Sandra Feldman asking for a national official to monitor daily operations of the 7,000-member union pending the outcome of an inquiry into the election of Sharon Blake.

The AFT's governing board voted last week to appoint a committee to conduct that inquiry. Investigators are expected in Baltimore this month on a fact-finding mission.

In an upset, Blake defeated Marietta A. English, who had been seeking a second two-year term, and three other candidates for union president. A former Douglass High School social studies teacher, Blake received 559 votes to English's 557, out of 1,628 cast.

Two election committee members were assigned to each polling place to oversee balloting. But some union members may not have been allowed to vote while others may have cast ballots improperly, LeCator said. There also were difficulties with voter verification and complaints about the operation of the voting machines.

After election officials identified these irregularities and received numerous complaints, LeCator said, the 18-member election committee voted unanimously to recommend that the election be redone, then asked the AFT to investigate.

Whether a new election is held will likely be decided by the AFT after its investigation, though an appeal could go to the U.S. Labor Department.

Blake's lawyer, Neal Janey, could not be reached yesterday for comment. Blake questioned whether the election committee had the authority to ask an AFT official to take the reigns of the union from her.

"It's a smear campaign," she said. "My question is on what authority are these people speaking?'

English's lawyer, William W. Thompson II, said yesterday that a variety of problems affected both the "ability to vote" and "the integrity of the process."

"In my opinion, this is one of the most obvious situations where a new election is called for that I've seen in 25 years," he said.

BTU election committee members met yesterday to prepare for the visit of the AFT's investigative committee, made up of Vice Presidents George Springer and Ted Kirsch.

"We'll give the complainant a chance to put on their case, and we'll give the respondent a chance to put on their case," Springer, president of the Connecticut state Federation of Teachers, said yesterday.

The committee will then make recommendations to the AFT's governing board on whether another election should be held.

English hopes the AFT appoints a representative to oversee the Baltimore union.

"Ms. English has consistently taken the position since this whole issue developed back in late May, early June, that we don't want the local dragged into the political contest here," said Thompson. "And that a useful way to keep that from happening would be for everyone to agree that an official from the AFT sort of watch the store until this is ironed out."

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