The new president of the Baltimore Teachers Union is calling for the American Federation of Teachers to block plans to hold a new election and to investigate how the May 15 vote that put her in power was handled.
Middle school teacher Diamonté Brown defeated Marietta English, who is seeking her ninth term, during a contentious election marred by allegations of voter suppression, campaign violations by the challenger and procedures that favored the incumbent slate. Based on preliminary numbers, Brown ousted English by a 901-839 margin — but the incumbent immediately announced that she would challenge the results.
Earlier this week, the local union’s election committee wrote a letter to English saying it had determined a new vote should be held based on its investigation of campaign violations filed by members, including her supporters. While Brown is listed as copied on the letter, she says she hasn’t received it.
In a subsequent letter, the committee said it has tentatively scheduled the new election for June 20. It’s asking to meet with both presidential candidates next week to discuss the procedures.
Brown is now asking the AFT to investigate the elections committee’s actions, and for national union leadership to step in to stop a new election from being held. She sent a letter Friday to national president Randi Weingarten and secretary-treasurer Lorretta Johnson, a former president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.
“There was absolutely no due process during this election challenge process,” Brown said in a statement. “I ask our members to be patient as this process moves forward.”
Brown said she hasn’t been told what allegations triggered the decision to hold a new election. “It is also unclear if an investigation has even taken place; no reports have been issued, nor has the Nomination and Elections Committee explained how any alleged violation affected the outcome of the election,” she wrote to the AFT.
“Without knowing the actual protests or charges nor the specific findings of the investigation, elected officers and the membership are left with no guidance to understand these consequential decisions.”
Brown also questioned why the elections committee had determined the new vote should concern only the Teacher Chapter of the BTU. The BTU represents the city’s nearly 7,000 educators, which includes teachers and paraprofessionals.
Brown’s slate won the majority of the teacher positions on the union’s executive board, while English’s team took all the paraprofessional spots.
English said in a statement Thursday that her team had reported “egregious violations” since the beginning of the campaign. She said teachers were outraged about being “aggressively approached at their worksites and more dangerously had their personal home addresses accessed, and were visited at their homes” by members of The Union We Deserve slate, which Brown led.
On Friday, English issued a second statement. “I believe whoever the next president of the BTU is should win by running an honest campaign built around integrity, that's what our members deserve."
But The Union We Deserve supporters say it was the other side whose actions tainted the vote.
They have accused the union’s elections committee of attempting to suppress the vote by limiting voting hours and locations, and denying the majority of absentee ballot requests. They said educators had to use a confusing ballot that favored English’s team. 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.
Weingarten issued a statement Friday night, saying: “Several of our members and leaders in Baltimore have reached out expressing concerns about what has transpired since the local election for the BTU president and executive board was held last week. I take these concerns very seriously.
“I believe all parties have now come to the national union seeking intervention, be it temporary trusteeship, an investigation or a rerun of the most recent election. I have been in touch with each of them and heard their concerns, and our office has received their formal complaints. Under the authority granted to the AFT under our constitution and the BTU’s constitution, we will carefully and objectively weigh the arguments and positions of all parties and will make a decision on the next steps in the coming days.”
Brown said in her letter that she hopes their involvement will help “rapidly resolve” the conflicts and allow the union to turn its focus to serving members.