Reformers Win Round One in D.C. Teachers Election

A slate of union reformers won a narrow victory Wednesday in the first round of a teachers’ union election in Washington, D.C., and they are well positioned for a larger victory in the run-off to be held in the next few weeks.

The 24-member reform slate, led by presidential candidate Nathan Saunders, currently the general VP of the Washington Teachers Union, came together this year to challenge WTU President George Parker, who offered virtually no resistance to the mass teacher firings and school closures implemented by recently resigned D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee.

The election in the 4,000-member WTU has far-reaching implications because Rhee and the D.C. school district have been celebrated as national models for the corporate version of school reform being carried out by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Both Saunders and running mate Candi Peterson, a WTU trustee and blogger who seeks the general VP slot, strongly oppose the corporate school agenda that blames teachers for the problems in public education and emphasizes privately run, non-union charter schools.

Unofficial results, with challenged ballots not yet counted, gave Saunders a slim lead of 334-313. With two other candidates in the presidential race, none received more than 50 percent of the vote, as the WTU constitution requires, so a run-off will be held.

New Book

Secrets of a successful organizer

A step-by-step guide to building power on the job. Buy Now. »

The election involved four officer posts plus 20 other executive board seats. Three of the candidates fielded full 24-member slates, and “most people voted slate,” said Sean Dria Jackson, a school psychologist who serves on the WTU elections committee. Thus the run-off is expected to pit the Saunders full slate against the Parker full slate.

Jackson believes the 234 votes for the other two candidates also represented an “anti-incumbent” vote, and that these voters will support the Saunders slate in the final round. “Sixty-five percent of the vote were teachers saying they are tired of what they’re getting,” said Jackson. “They want a union that’s a union.”

Jackson also commented on the remarkably low turnout (22 percent) in what has been a hotly contested and highly visible race. “The non-voters are just fed up,” she said. “We tried to schedule an election four times this year, and it kept getting tied up by Parker.” The WTU election was constitutionally supposed to be completed by June 30. After a series of election irregularities and one lawsuit, the American Federation of Teachers, WTU’s parent union, imposed a trusteeship over the local and is now supervising the election.