It is not a surprise that the Absent Teacher Reserve Chapter Election appeal has been rejected by the AFT. The AFT's reasoning makes very little sense but unfortunately that is what we have come to expect from our union's leaders at the local, state and national levels.
It is up to the ATRs now on whether we appeal this decision. If we move forward to the Federal Department of Labor, we will need information on whether or not each ATR was able to vote in this past spring's Chapter Elections.
Maybe the feds will finally provide some justice for the ATRs.
The AFT decision in its entirety is below.
Re: Request for Investigation of UFT Chapter and Delegate Assembly Elections; Voting Rights of Absent Teacher Reserves
Dear Secretary Pietromonaco and Messrs. Eterno, Portelos, Zucker and Leppelmeier:
The American Federation of Teachers (“AFT”) has completed its preliminary investigation of the 2015 United Federation of Teachers (“UFT”) chapter and delegate assembly elections. The AFT commenced the preliminary investigation based on an election challenge from UFT members James Eterno, Francesco Portelos, Al Zucker and August Leppelmeier. The purpose of the preliminary investigation was to ascertain whether the challenge raised material questions that would require a hearing for resolution and referral to the AFT executive council or whether it could be resolved based on the complaint and the UFT’s response. UFT Secretary Emil Pietromonaco responded to the complaint’s allegations on behalf of UFT. For the purpose of our review, the UFT chapter and delegate assembly elections are governed by Title I and Title IV of the Labor Management and Reporting Disclosure Act (“LMRDA”) and the AFT and UFT constitutions. Titles I and IV of the LMRDA require that members shall have “equal rights and privileges” to vote and nominate in union elections and obligate unions to provide “adequate safeguards to insure fair and democratic elections.”
After careful consideration of the allegations raised by the election challenge, UFT’s response to the challenge and the union’s applicable governing documents, we conclude that the allegations are not substantiated and therefore do not require a full investigation by the AFT executive council for resolution. The basis for our conclusion is set forth below.
The Election Challenge
The petitioners challenge the manner by which Absent Teacher Reserves (“ATRs”) are provided voting rights within the UFT and question whether it affords them full voting rights. Employees of the NYC Department of Education who are in excess after the first day of school may be assigned as an ATR until they are able to find a permanent position. Typically, ATRs are assigned to a school for a month and serve temporary assignments such as filling vacancies and leaves as needed.
Consequently, an ATR’s placement in a particular school could change on a month-to-month basis.
This past May and June, each UFT chapter (each school is its own chapter) conducted its own elections to elect a chapter leader and representatives to the UFT Delegate Assembly. The challenge alleges that the UFT election rules and policies effectively “disenfranchised” ATRs and thus denied them the right to be represented on the UFT delegate assembly. The challenge contends that ATRs are disenfranchised because the UFT does not permit absentee balloting for ATRs who do not work at the schools where their chapter elections take place. The challenge also contends that ATRs are entitled to their own separate UFT chapter. Last, the petitioners express concern that if elected, ATRs will be removed by the UFT executive board from elective office as soon as they are moved to a new school location. Each of these allegations is discussed below.
ATRs were denied equal voting rights in the 2015 UFT chapter elections.
The challenge first contends that ATRs will be disenfranchised because some ATRs may not be working at the school where their chapter election will take place. For the purpose of voting and running for office in school chapter elections, ATRs are assigned to the chapter that they belonged to on the first Monday in May before the start of the election period. Thus, if an ATR is assigned to the Stuyvesant High School chapter on April 30th, but is reassigned to the A. Phillip Randolph Campus High School chapter on May 8th, that particular ATR would vote in the chapter election at Stuyvesant High School. The challengers believe that ATRs will be disenfranchised if they are working at a different location from their assigned chapter because “there is no provision for absentee balloting” in the Election Guide and Bylaws. The record demonstrates, however, that this concern is unwarranted.
UFT’s 2015 Chapter Election Guide and Bylaws explicitly provide that each school chapter’s election calendar must give all UFT members, including ATRs, an opportunity to vote. Specifically, the Election Guide and Bylaws state that “provision will be made for members who are not on the school’s table of organization but eligible to participate in the chapter’s election to nominate and be nominated” and “cast ballots before the close of balloting.” Accordingly, absentee balloting is not necessary. As Secretary Pietromonoco stated in his response to the election challenge, each chapter has an “affirmative obligation” to provide a time and place for those members who are not physically located at the chapter site to be able to vote. UFT further explained that accommodations could be made by having a UFT member remain after school closes on a designated date to allow members who do not work at the particular chapter to vote. These provisions in the Election Guide and Bylaws demonstrate that the UFT has taken steps to provide a system in which every UFT member in good standing, including ATRs, has an opportunity to participate fully in the union’s chapter and delegate assembly elections. This allegation is therefore dismissed.
While the challenge only contends that ATRs are denied equal voting rights in the chapter elections, it should be noted that ATRs are also provided full voting rights in UFT’s officer, executive board and affiliate delegate elections. Every member in good standing has the right to vote in the election of officers, the executive board and affiliate delegate elections as well as the chapter elections.2 A member’s status as an ATR thus results in no limitation on that member’s right to fully participate in UFT elections.
ATRs are entitled to their own separate chapter
The challenge requests that the UFT executive board create a separate "functional chapter" for ATRs. The challenge contends that ATRs have “unique interests” that are separate from UFT members permanently placed in chapters. The challenge adds that because these rights are not addressed by the current governance structure of the UFT, the rights of ATRs are “inferior” to the rights of other UFT members. As Secretary Pietromonaco explained in his response, ATRs are full members of the chapters they are assigned to and are "covered by the same collective bargaining agreement as any other person in the same title assigned to the school." ATRs have the same chapter rights as UFT members who are permanently placed in chapters. This includes the right to grieve matters regarding employment to chapter leaders and participate fully in union officer elections as discussed above. For these reasons, we do not find that the rights of ATRs are unjustly inferior to any other UFT member.
The issue here is not whether ATRs have voting rights, but rather, the petitioners do not agree with how these rights have been addressed by the UFT. The AFT, however, does not intervene in the policy-making decisions of its affiliates unless a local affiliate’s policy or action is in direct conflict with the mandates in the AFT constitution or "the principles of the AFT and tends to being the AFT into disrepute."3 It is also a well-established federal policy to avoid unnecessary interference in the internal affairs of unions unless the challenged policy conflicts with federal law and is deemed unreasonable.4 As discussed above, the record demonstrates that UFT has implemented a number of policies and rules to ensure that employees taken off a school's table of organization maintain the same rights as those employees permanently placed. We do not find that these policies are not in direct conflict with the principles of the AFT. Accordingly, the AFT has no basis to intervene in this particular matter any further.
The 2015 Election Guide and Bylaws place unreasonable qualifications on members who are ATRs to run for office.
The challenge alleges that it is unreasonable to require that ATRs remain in the chapter that they were a member of on the first Monday in May solely for the purpose of voting and running for office in chapter elections. The challenge finds this rule to be unfair against ATRs because it assumes that if an elected delegate moves from one chapter to another, the UFT executive board will remove that particular delegate from office.
This contention is purely hypothetical as the challenge does not provide an instance where an ATR elected as chapter chair has been forced to step down because he/she was rotated to another school. In the context of election investigations, the AFT generally does not investigate claims that are based in hypothetical and conjectural theories. Nevertheless, for discussion purposes, we find this allegation to be meritless as the UFT executive board assured the challengers that should an ATR be elected at one chapter and then assigned to another chapter, the member would remain in the elected position. This decision by the UFT executive board resolves the challengers’ concerns that an elected ATR would be asked to step down as chapter leader if relocated to a new chapter.
In his response, Secretary Pietromonaco did acknowledge that if an ATR elected as chapter chair accepts a permanent position in another chapter, the ATR must step down from his or her position as chapter chair. We find this policy to be fair and reasonable in light of the union’s duty of fair representation obligations. When anyone is elected as a chapter chair, the members of that chapter elect that person with the understanding that he/she will serve as their elected representative. The same applies to an ATR. So if an ATR accepts a permanent position at another school, the person is now a full-time member of another staff and no longer an ATR. It is only common sense that the permanent relocation requires the relinquishment of the ATR delegate position. It should be noted that this particular rule applies to all UFT members. For example, if a chapter chair who is a social studies teacher permanently placed at one school transfers to another school’s table of organization, that member would have to step down from his/her position as chapter chair as well. Given the uniform application of this policy to all UFT members and the prevailing representational interests of each chapter, we do not find this policy to be unreasonable.
The challenge also contends that the UFT election rules place ATRs at a “huge competitive disadvantage” in seeking union office because ATRs would be seeking to represent schools where they no longer work. As Secretary Pietromonaco correctly noted however, Title IV of the LMRDA does not guarantee “the right of any particular member to be successfully elected.” This also applies to the AFT and UFT constitutions. The AFT and UFT constitutions and Title IV of the LMRDA require that union officer elections are conducted fairly and democratically. That is, AFT affiliated unions must guarantee that all candidates for office are treated equally and that the right of every member to nominate candidates, run for office, and vote is protected. 5 As discussed above, the UFT Election Guide and Bylaws provide that every member in good standing must be given the opportunity to nominate candidates, run for office and vote. The election challenge did not present any evidence that would suggest any particular member was denied these rights during the 2015 UFT chapter and delegate assembly elections. Furthermore, the record does not demonstrate that candidates were treated unequally during the course of campaigning.
5 See Wirtz v. Hotel, Motel & Club Emp. Union, Local 6, 391 U.S. 492, 496 (1968).
The challenge seeks to remedy the alleged competitive disadvantage against ATRs through the creation of a separate ATR chapter. For reasons already discussed above, the challenge does not present evidence that demonstrates that a separate chapter is necessary in order to protect the democratic rights of ATRs. UFT’s policy reasons for not creating a separate chapter do not conflict with the applicable provisions of the LMRDA and are not unreasonable. Accordingly, AFT intervention is not justified. Last, the challenge’s assumption that ATR candidates who do not work at their chapter locations are disadvantaged is not supported by any factual evidence and therefore amounts to speculation. We, therefore, do not find that the UFT Election Guide and Bylaws hinder any UFT member’s ability to be elected in such a way that would violate Titles I and IV of the LMRDA or the AFT and UFT constitutions.
For the reasons discussed above, the challenge does not support the conclusion that ATRs are disenfranchised or have inferior rights within the UFT. Based on the information provided to the AFT and a full examination of the record, we conclude that there is not sufficient cause to proceed to a full investigation by the AFT executive council. The AFT considers this matter fully adjudicated.
Dr. Lorretta Johnson
cc: Randi Weingarten