Union charges filed against DFT president Conn
Detroit — A rift between the old guard and new regime within the Detroit Federation of Teachers widened Friday when DFT Executive Vice President Ivy Bailey notified President Steve Conn that charges have been filed against him.
In a letter posted on the union website, Bailey alleges “violations of the DFT constitution and bylaws and conduct detrimental to the union.”
It continues: “As is required by the DFT bylaws, I have scheduled conferences between President Conn and the members to attempt to resolve the matters. If there is no successful resolution, the DFT Executive Board will be asked to decide whether to hold a trial on the charges.”
Bailey said members charge that Conn has attempted to cancel regular meetings and has failed to preside over them; has improperly called “special mass meetings;” and has conducted meetings without agendas, without allowing members to speak, and without proper and valid votes.
It is further charged that he has permitted the DFT to become affiliated with the civil rights group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) without authorization from the members or executive board.
The letter continues: “It is charged that he has permitted members to be threatened and abused at meetings and that when a member was physically assaulted (an assault captured in a surveillance video and now the subject of a criminal charge), he refused to take action against the attacker, but instead publicly and libelously blamed the victim. It is charged that he has failed to pay the Union’s per capita dues to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and AFT Michigan.
“The Executive Board and myself have received numerous complaints, that we have a duty to respond to. We hope for a successful resolution which is in the interest of the members of the DFT and the students in the Detroit Public Schools.”
The letter is signed by Bailey. She did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.
In response to the charges filed against him by the DFT membership, Conn said it is “divisive, distracting and destructive.”
“This is a desperate bid by remnants of the old regime to get rid of me and return to the old ways of working hand in hand with the emergency manager,” Conn said. “Every time we’d rally, they’d send out emails to members telling them not to participate. So that didn’t work and now they’re trying this, which is terribly destructive.”
Conn said for him to be removed, they would need 1,000 signatures, then it must go through a mass meeting and they must get two-thirds of a vote against him. The union represents about 4,000 members, including teachers in Detroit Public Schools.
“The executive board is made up of the old regime — the party of give up and defeat and retreat and cooperate with the emergency manager (Darnell Earley), as he tries to dismantle the district,” he said.
Conn, who was elected in January in a runoff election against Bailey, said his next move is to “have the membership weigh in and make it known that this won’t be tolerated.”
“This new leadership has gotten the union back up on its feet and they’re trying to shut down the new activism and return to the old ways,” he said.
Conn’s predecessor as DFT president, Keith Johnson, called it “highly unusual for the union membership to file charges against the president. But it’s also highly unusual for a president to completely ignore the union constitution and bylaws.”
Johnson said the DFT owed AFT Michigan $66,000 as of Monday, when the AFT Michigan advisory board met. He attended the meeting as a vice president of the state organization.
Conn said he was in negotiations with Randi Weingarten, president of the national American Federation of Teachers. He also said he felt paying 50 percent of dues to the national organization was “too much.”
David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan, would not discuss the dispute.
“A local union pays per capita in two separate checks: one to national AFT and one to AFT Michigan,” he said in an email. “Other than stating this fact, I am not going to comment on an issue internal to AFT Michigan.”
Weingarten gave a similar response in an emailed statement.
“Steve Conn asked for some financial and historical information, which we gave him,” Weingarten said. “We’re obviously watching this very carefully. However, we’re not going to respond publicly to an internal matter.”
Marta Lazar, a DFT member who plans to retire next month, said she supported the filing of union charges against Conn.
“It’s long overdue. ... He has taken the DFT to a place where nobody wants to go,” she said. “He needs to be replaced.”