As you may know, an election for the officers of your union, AFT St. Louis, Local 420, was postponed by a vote of the stewards and executive board from spring 2020 to the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, the new election process was scheduled to culminate with in-person voting on Thursday, Nov. 12, and Saturday, Nov. 14. Unfortunately, some confusion arose with the election process, and as a result, the national union was asked by several Local 420 members, leaders and candidates for clarification and intervention. Here follows, after a thorough investigation and consultation with the local’s election committee and executive board, a way to resolve these issues and get the election process restarted fairly quickly.
The AFT Constitution commits our national union to ensure free and fair local elections. We always start by following both the local’s constitution and the rules federal labor law sets up for holding union elections. Union democracy has always been a cornerstone of the American Federation of Teachers. The issues raised to us included concerns about the actions and impartiality of the election judge originally hired by Local 420, the placement of candidates on the ballot, which mailing vendor to hire and whether to hold an in-person or mail-ballot election given the increases of COVID-19 positivity rates.
Everyone involved wanted to make sure that the election was held fairly, with every member having a vote and a voice—and every candidate having a fair chance at your vote. And we’re glad to be able to report that no one from your local committed any wrongdoing or was found at fault.
The AFT carried out a detailed inquiry into the issues brought to us. Traditionally, the national union rules on election complaints only after the election has taken place. But in this case, it was clear that the AFT had a potentially helpful role to play in enabling Local 420 to untangle the procedural issues and get the election process back on track.
After reviewing all the information put before us, the AFT executive board and AFT executive committee decided that:
- Local 420 needs to hire a new election judge to oversee the process. After carefully examining the record, we at the AFT believe that the original judge’s actions showed that he did not appear to have enough familiarity with the election rules and past practices of the local to carry out the duties of his position. For example, he didn’t know that Local 420 officers and employees were being totally consistent with normal local practices when they did not want to give the election judge unfettered access to the local’s membership list. This confusion—not any actions by Local 420 officers or staff—delayed the process of verifying the eligibility of nominees. Second, per federal guidelines, an election judge should be neutral and impartial. We were thus very concerned (although the AFT made no finding on the truth of the allegations made) about the judge’s cursory treatment of a serious complaint that he had not done a truly random drawing for candidates’ placement on the ballot. While we attribute a lot of this to rookie mistakes, it cost some delay and confusion, and an appearance of partiality in the election process. That is why we’ve recommended that Local 420 replace the original judge with a new election official.
- The election process should be restarted.With the nomination verification process and the ballot placement process already somewhat tangled up, another snag was that Local 420’s election committee and executive board differed on which mailhouse to hire for a possible mail-in ballot. Given all the issues that had arisen already, the AFT decided that the best thing to do was to direct Local 420 to honor the nominations process but to create a new election timetable. The election committee will now adopt a new election timeline, including a new campaign period, a new candidate meeting to determine candidate placement on the ballot, and a new timeline for a (hopefully) mail-ballot vote, all to be approved by the local’s executive board and the stewards council. (I should add that while holding a mail-ballot election is ultimately the local’s decision, we’ve encouraged the stewards council and executive board to go with a mail-in election as the best way for members to remain safe during the pandemic while exercising their right to vote.) Finally, to make the election-restart
process easier, the AFT is making available to Local 420 one of our national representatives with deep experience in union elections.
We believe that this fresh start is an opportunity to make sure that everyone involved—most of all, you, the members—has confidence that this has been a fairly conducted election. A restart is the best solution for making sure that you have your time-honored democratic voice and vote in choosing the leadership and direction of your union. The intervention process has worked the way it should: to resolve problems and protect the free and informed member choice that comes with a well-run election process.
Fedrick C. Ingram