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American Federation of Teachers
Press conference on national union’s takeover of Washington Teachers Union local
January 27, 2003




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Statement by Edward J. McElroy, January 27, 2003

Good afternoon.

Seven months ago, the American Federation of Teachers was contacted by a representative for a teacher who belonged to our local affiliate, the WTU. This representative had questions about an overcharge in the dues deducted from members' paychecks.

Upon investigation, and with the agreement of the WTU executive board and then-vice president Esther Hankerson, we sent in our financial services department to take a look at the local's financial records. We discovered a number of irregular and unsupported transactions -- transactions that were of enough concern to lead us to do several things: First, we retained an independent accounting firm to do a detailed forensic audit; second, we asked for the President, Barbara Bullock, and the Treasurer, James Baxter, to step aside; and third, we referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney.

We of course now know the vast scope of the misappropriation of funds from the WTU by a few individuals. We, along with many in the D.C. community - teachers and others have been sickened by the unfolding revelations of wrongdoing.

The size of the harm done to the WTU can be measured not only in the enormous sums of money removed from the WTU treasury, but also in the enormous loss of trust its members feel as a result of their betrayal by a few individuals.

The AFT is working to recover as much as we can of the money taken - and we pledge to do everything in our power to make the members of WTU whole. To that end, we have filed suit against a number of individuals we believe are responsible, and we will continue to pursue all avenues of recourse to seek the return of WTU funds from any and all parties who may be involved.

But just as important as getting the WTU budget under control is the critical goal of restoring the trust of WTU members. And to do that requires making sure that the WTU is equipped and able to do the job it is intended to do on a daily basis for its members - from providing the kind of support, information, and resources on education initiatives in the classroom to leadership in negotiations of contracts.

To her credit, Esther Hankerson and the WTU Executive Board have worked hard under the incredibly challenging conditions inherited to provide these kinds of services to members. But the burden this union faces -- repairing its finances, repairing its structure, and repairing its integrity -- requires a unique and powerful solution.

That is why the AFT Executive Council - after consideration of all of the facts - voted unanimously to place the WTU in an adminstratorship.

This adminstratorship will allow us continue to provide adequate and efficient controls for handling the finances of the local, so that members can know and be secure in the knowledge that their union is fiscally sound and using its money to promote education. And it will also allow us to increase dialogue and communication with the members to ensure that their priorities and interests are given voice.

The AFT has a long-standing tradition of strong locals with complete autonomy in running their own affairs. This developed because we have long believed that the people best able to understand and address local issues are those closest to the members. But severe problems call for drastic action. Make no mistake about it, we are going in to do what needs to be done.

And that is why we have appointed a respected, seasoned, and highly capable educator and union leader, George Springer, a man with a fine record of service in Connecticut, to be the administrator of the WTU.

It is my pleasure to introduce George Springer.

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Edward McElroy photo

Edward J. McElroy
Secretary-Treasurer, American Federation of Teachers

Edward J. McElroy has served as secretary-treasurer of the 1.2 million-member American Federation of Teachers since he was first elected to the position in August 1992. In December 2001, he was elected to the 54-member Executive Council of the AFL-CIO. Until elected secretary treasurer, he served as an AFT vice president since 1974. Mr. McElroy was president of the Warwick Rhode Island Teachers Union from 1968 through 1970 and president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers from 1971 until 1992. He was also president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO from 1977 until 1992.

Mr. McElroy is a leader in various AFL-CIO Executive Council Committees and numerous community, civic and labor organizations, including the following: United Way National Board of Governors Department of Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (a coalition of 21 national unions representing four million professional, technical, and administrative professionals) Union Labels Trades Department Food and Allied Service Trades of the AFL-CIO

Mr. McElroy began his career as a social studies and English teacher in Warwick, Rhode Island. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Providence College and has done graduate work at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Connecticut. He resides in Washington, DC, is married, and has four children and two grandchildren.

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Statement of George Springer--January 27, 2003

Good Afternoon:

My name is George Springer - and I wish I could say it's a pleasure to be here before you today - however it is anything but a pleasure. The fact is, I wish there were no need for me to be here today.

What happened to the Washington Teachers Union - and its 5,000 hard-working members -- is simply appalling. In my 44 years in the teacher union movement I've never seen anything like the situation that has occurred here in Washington. This is no way to serve the men and women who give so much of themselves to the District's children, day in and day out.

As Ed just noted, it was the leadership of the American Federation of Teachers together with the executive board of WTU - that first brought this situation to the U.S. Attorney. Last week the AFT, again with the full approval of the WTU executive board, put the local union under an administratorship -- asking me to serve as the local union's administrator.

I've accepted that responsibility. I started this morning -- and I can tell you that from this morning on, the kind of unforgivable activities that took place by certain people in this union are history.

The way I see things, the 5,000 public school teachers of Washington, D.C., have a crucial job to do - educating the children who live in our nation's capital. And the WTU, has a responsibility that's just as crucial: supporting our teachers in that endeavor.

Teaching is a tough enough job under the best of circumstances. The sooner the union can get back on the track of helping teachers do their job - and getting them the support and compensation they need, without any distractions -- the better off we'll all be. It's time for Washington's teachers to be allowed to focus on what's going on in the classroom -- not the courtroom.

The AFT will continue to work to help right any financial wrongs that have been done to Washington's teachers. As you know, that process has already begun. And, of course, the national union will continue to help the federal authorities anyway it can in their investigation and prosecution of the wrongdoers

As administrator, my role will be to restore and ensure the smooth operation and the integrity of the Washington Teachers Union. I intend to get back to the business of supporting educators.

I'll start by doing a lot of listening and learning from those who can be helpful. At 8:00 a.m. this morning, Esther Hankerson and I attended a meeting of the Labor Management Partnership Council of the D.C. public schools. Later today I'll be meeting with Ms. Hankerson together with the WTU executive board. And next Monday I'll be meeting with the union building reps from all District schools. I'm also planning a regular series of membership meetings with the District's teachers, counselors and other school employees we represent. As you can see, a key part of my tenure will be increasing communications with the members.

Ultimately, it's possible that I'll be making some changes - but only where changes are needed. I won't try to fix parts of the union that aren't broken, but rest assured, I'll take whatever actions I have to to repair what is broken.

And by the end of this administratorship, the Washington Teachers Union will be the professional, well-run local union that it should have been all along - fighting for the teachers who fight so hard for their students. By the end of this administratorship, the WTU will be an example of excellence that other local unions -- teacher unions and all unions -- will look to as a mark of excellence.

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George Springer


George Springer has been the Northeast Regional Director for the American Federation of Teachers since July 2001. Prior to that appointment, he was president of the 20,000-member Connecticut Federation of Educational and Professional Employees (the AFT's Connecticut state affiliate) for 22 years. Springer was a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers from 1988-2001.

During his tenure as AFT vice president, Springer was a member of the AFT Human Rights Committee, the AFT Public Employees Program and Policy Council, an AFT benefits trustee, and a member of the AFT's Task Force on Union-Sponsored Professional Development.

Springer taught graphic arts and African American history during his 20year teaching career in New Britain, Colon., from. 1959 - 1979. Throughout that period, he held various union leadership positions, including president of the New Britain Federation of Teachers.

Springer is a member of the National Commission for African American Education, board member and chairman of the education committee of Amistad America Inc., and vice president of the John C. Rogers African American Cultural Center Inc.

Springer resides in New Britain, Conn.

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