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Conn loses bid for reinstatement as DFT president

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

The ousted president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers lost his bid Thursday to be reinstated by members.

A majority of members attending a meeting at the Masonic Temple voted to restore Steve Conn to office, but he fell short of the two-thirds needed under the local’s bylaws.

The vote to overturn the executive board’s decision to remove him was 527-473.

Many angry voters stormed out of the meeting chanting, “We want Steve, we want Steve,” as Conn stood nearby thanking them.

He vowed not to give up, blasting Gov. Rick Snyder and the state-appointed emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools, Darnell Earley, in defiant remarks.

“I got the majority of the votes and I’m still not allowed to take office,” Conn said. “There are many unions that will take teachers. The DFT is dead. They will do anything — crawl on their bellies —for Snyder and Earley.

“What a terrible, terrible thing for students to see,” he said. “But teachers will continue to fight for their rights.”

Retired teacher Frank Squeo of Clinton Township, is urging teachers to withhold their DFT dues.

“I think Steve should be our president and those teachers who feel the same should stop paying their dues,” he said.

Jenai Sorrell, who teaches at Mackenzie elementary and middle school, said she voted for Conn to return as president.

“We need someone who will fight for us,” she said. “We can’t afford any more changes like the ones they’re trying with our health care. The first priority should be our students, but teachers can’t effectively teach if they’re all stressed out about their health care costs.”

Sarah Niemi, who teaches at Greenfield Union said she also voted for Conn.

“I don’t think it was a fair process,” she said. “(The executive board) served as the judge and jury and were against Steve from the get-go.

Before the vote, Conn’s lawyer Shanta Driver had said if Conn lost he and his supporters would create an independent union or join another union.

She also said if the vote went against her client, a planned lawsuit against the executive board would go forward.

After an internal trial conducted Aug. 3, the executive board found Conn guilty of five counts of misconduct.

Executive vice president Ivy Bailey has been serving as interim president of the DFT, which represents about 4,000 members, including teachers in DPS.

The five charges the executive board upheld against Conn were: illegal cancellation of meetings, illegal attempts to convene special meetings, and failure to preside over meetings in accordance with the union’s bylaws; unauthorized affiliation of the DFT with the civil rights group By Any Means Necessary; failure to investigate abuse of members; failure to address physical assault on a member, and failure to pay per capita dues.

A sixth charge, conducting a school rally against the wishes of 90 percent of staff, was dismissed.

The fiery Conn, 57, was elected in a runoff in January to succeed retiring president Keith Johnson.

He ran on a platform demanding an end to pay and benefit concessions, and calling on teachers to “stand up” to the district, Earley and Snyder.

Conn has a right to appeal to the American Federation of Teachers. With his ouster being upheld, the DFT must hold an election for a new president within 120 days.

Johnson, who remains a dues-paying member of the union, had said he hoped members would show up in large numbers to vote.

Several teachers and a DFT executive board member said they had never witnessed a membership meeting as crowded as Thursday’s.

Johnson, who ran against Conn for the president three times and won each time, most recently in 2012, had urged members to uphold his ouster. He said he voted not to reinstate Conn.

"The members spoke, and although Steve had very strong support, he did not meet the two-thirds majority vote. This shows we have a lot of work to do in terms of reuniting the union," Johnson said. "It's time for us to close ranks and engage in the real battle, which is against Earley and his policies

"Although it is unfortunate that it even came to this, I was pleased to see that so many members on both sides came out to advocate for their position," he said.


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