Conn to file lawsuit against DFT

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — Supporters of expelled Detroit Federation of Teachers president Steve Conn packed the basement of a Detroit church Thursday, a day after he was found guilty of misconduct by the local’s executive board and was removed from office.

“Teachers, we can win as a union together,” Conn told DFT members Thursday. “But you must join me in rebuilding the union.”

Conn sat at a long table at the front of the room at Gracious Savior Lutheran Church with his lawyer as petitions to recall the board’s executive vice president and another to show support for Conn were circulated.

Conn, who has accused the board of a “coup” against him, said earlier Thursday that he planned to file a lawsuit against the union’s executive vice president Ivy Bailey and the other board members who voted to oust him Wednesday.

“They have attempted to usurp the democratic authority of the membership,” he said before the meeting Thursday night. “Their decision to remove and expel an elected president, on the basis of fraudulent and politically-motivated charges, is an egregious abuse of power.”

Leslie Hubbard, a teacher from Keidan Special Education Center who teaches sixth through eighth grade, wore a black, screen-printed T-shirt with white letters that said: “We Support Steve Conn.”

“It’s obvious the executive board is trying to break up the union,” she said. “I think he’s the best person for the position. He is all about the community, students and teachers.”

Ursula Byrd, who teaches at Gompers Elementary and Middle School, called Conn’s removal a “travesty and a shame.”

“With Steve at the helm, he’s bringing about positive change and he’s creating momentum. With the old regime, members had lost hope and became passive. But change is good, and some people don’t like change. If I just sit back and am silent, I’m agreeing with the demise of public education.”

Conn’s lawyer, Shanta Driver said she’s known Conn almost 40 years and called him a “fighter for equality and justice.”

“There were people all over Detroit who celebrated the victory of Steve’s election, not just the DFT. They refused to accept the new Jim Crow and second-class treatment they’ve been subjected to for the last 20 years.”

Supporters gave Conn a standing ovation before he addressed the crowd.

Members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers sign a petition to recall executive vice president Ivy Bailey at a meeting Thursday at Gracious Savior Lutheran Church in Detroit. Steve Conn said he plans to file a lawsuit against board members who voted him out of office.

“Teachers, we can win as a union together,” he said. “But you must join me in rebuilding the union. We can change the working lives of both students and teachers.”

He added: “No man is an island. I need your help in this struggle. I need it now. This is union organizing 101. We must be a drum major for justice.”

Earlier, he said union members will vote Sept. 10 on the executive board’s decision to remove him from office, and to expel him from the DFT. A two-thirds vote by the members at that meeting is required in order to overturn the decision of the executive board.

Bailey, who becomes interim president until an election to vote in a new leader, did not respond to a request for comment.

Retired former DFT president Keith Johnson called Conn’s pending lawsuit “frivolous.”

“The union constitution and bylaws give the executive board the authority to take the action they took,” he said. “In order for a recall to take place, there must be a valid reason to substantiate it, and there is none.

“Why is Steve taking this action when it’s really his own actions that resulted in what has taken place? All he had to do was follow the constitution and bylaws.”

Driver said the lawsuit was not frivolous.

“They were not following the bylaws,” she said. “You cannot say the reason we’re voting you out is because of your political affiliation. There’s no place in the union bylaws that allows that to go on. And the bylaws say you can remove an officer ‘or’ expel them from the union, not ‘and’ — you cannot do both.”

Former executive vice president Edna Reaves said of Conn, “That’s his mentality. Everything is a lawsuit.”

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