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National teachers union opens investigation into Baltimore Teachers Union election

Middle school teacher and newly elected Baltimore Teachers Union President Diamonté Brown wants to stop attempts by Marietta English to overturn the election.
Middle school teacher and newly elected Baltimore Teachers Union President Diamonté Brown wants to stop attempts by Marietta English to overturn the election.(Baltimore Sun)

The American Federation of Teachers is blocking an attempt to hold a new Baltimore Teachers Union election until it finishes an investigation into complaints of violations and improper campaigning surrounding the May 15 vote.

Two weeks ago, middle school teacher Diamonté Brown ousted longtime BTU president Marietta English by a vote of 901-839. English, seeking her ninth term, immediately pledged to challenge the results.

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The BTU Elections Committee then announced it would schedule a new vote, without providing specific reasons why, prompting Brown to ask the national union leadership to intervene.

The back-and-forth has generated angst among the city’s roughly 7,000 educators, some of whom are frustrated that the power struggle is distracting from the issues they face in classrooms each day.

In a Friday letter, AFT president Randi Weingarten said she will conduct a hearing in Baltimore June 10, during which a committee will hear from witnesses and examine evidence related to the BTU candidates’ complaints.

“As part of this authorization, and to preserve the AFT’s jurisdiction to adjudicate this matter, the AFT Executive Council has stayed the decision of the Election Committee to hold a new election, pending the resolution of this investigation,” the letter reads.

Members of both the Progressive Caucus, which English represents, and The Union We Deserve, which Brown leads, have complained the election was unfair.

Corey Debnam, the BTU Progressive Caucus chair, wrote a letter to Weingarten accusing members of the Union We Deserve team of using official Baltimore City Public School emails to reach out to teachers, campaigning on school grounds and visiting educators at their home addresses, which left some feeling “violated” and confused as to how this information was accessed.

“I am glad that AFT is coming in to oversee an investigation because as I have said numerous times, there were egregious violations throughout this campaign process,” English said in a statement. “I am confident that this investigation will allow all members to have their voices heard and restore the integrity of our elections.”

Brown’s team has alleged the union’s elections committee attempted to suppress the vote by limiting voting hours and locations, and denying the majority of absentee ballot requests. The elections committee was appointed by English’s old board, though she said she separated herself from their work.

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Union We Deserve supporters also said educators had to use a confusing ballot on May 15 that favored English’s team. And as voting wrapped up, election observers at Edmondson-Westside High School were kicked out by officials at Elections USA, the outside group that ran the election, leaving the process with limited oversight. The observer who was kicked out also reached out to Weingarten with his account.

The Baltimore Teachers Union elections committee plans to schedule a new election after allegations of campaign violations marred the vote earlier this month.

In her letter to Weingarten, Brown wrote that the elections committee failed to “uphold due process” when calling for a new election. Brown also claimed the elections committee supervised the vote in a way that violated the union’s constitution.

This is at least the second time the AFT has stepped in to investigate an election in which English lost.

English first assumed the BTU presidency in 1998 but was ousted by Sharon Blake during the next election. Blake’s victory hinged on two votes.

The AFT responded, and ordered the union to dismiss the results. In the new election, Blake defeated English by 23 votes.

English ran again the next election cycle and led the union until this month.

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Brown’s campaigned on disrupting the status quo. Her new board members represent outspoken teachers who have said they want to forge a union that was more accountable to teachers and better promotes social justice.

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