Baltimore Teacher Reformers' Win Upheld by National Union

Selfie of four Baltimore teachers in front of a school.

The Baltimore Teachers Union is now headed by BMORE's Diamonté Brown (pictured, second from left). Photo: The Union We Deserve slate.

The reform slate in the Baltimore Teachers (BTU) overcame its first hurdle after being elected in May: an attempt by the incumbents to force a rerun was rejected by the national Teachers (AFT) leadership.

The incumbents, who had held office for 20 years, had challenged the results after being defeated by the “Union We Deserve” slate.

That slate was supported by two rank-and-file caucuses, the Baltimore Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (BMORE) and the Caucus of Educators for Democracy and Equity (CEDE).

BMORE’s Diamonté Brown will now head the union, though the incumbent Progressive Caucus retained a slim majority on the executive board by winning the seats for the chapter that represents paraprofessionals and other school employees.

The incumbents’ appointed elections committee had overturned the election without hearing evidence from both sides or even explaining what conduct interfered with the vote. Brown requested an AFT investigation.

VINDICATED

After a hearing and a month of deliberations, the AFT rejected claims that BMORE and CEDE supporters campaigning at schools or visiting members at their homes violated the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act standards, which are incorporated into the AFT constitution.

The AFT further noted that the local’s election rules made it harder for members to participate, a point the Union We Deserve candidates had made during the election.

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The AFT said that since the previous contested election in 2016, the BTU elections committee had modified the rules in a way that “significantly narrowed the opportunities for candidates to campaign and for members to receive information about the elections.” Changes included bans on holding any election-related meetings at schools or using work email and mailboxes to distribute campaign literature.

The report recommended the union “consider implementing reasonable campaigning rules that permit greater access to the voters by all candidates and that facilitate member participation in elections to the greatest extent possible.”

Cristina Duncan Evans, narrowly elected as chair of the teacher chapter, said the decision was a vindication not just for the candidates, but also for members who raised concerns about the voting process. “If you are going to make the rules so hard that no one can follow them, that’s a way of undermining democracy,” Duncan Evans said.

CURVEBALLS

The new leaders took office in May, days after being elected, while the election results were still being contested. Since then, Brown and the BMORE/CEDE team have doubled the size of their bargaining team. They inherited contract negotiations that were close to a settlement.

The district threw a few curveballs before the school year ended, including payroll irregularities and a new policy allowing principals to do unannounced observations of teachers. While reacting to these surprise moves, the new leaders also launched listening tours, completing four school visits before the end of the school year.

“If we are going to be member-driven, we need that information to help shape the direction of the union,” said Duncan Evans. The election, with higher turnout, was a sign that members were ready for change, she said. “[But] if we are really going to engage membership, we need to go to them.”

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes # 485. Don't miss an issue, subscribe today.
Samantha Winslow is co-director of Labor Notes.samantha@labornotes.org