Last August, the executive board of the Detroit Federation of Teachers ousted its perennially agitated president, Steve Conn. When the rank-and-file had an opportunity to weigh in, a majority favored Conn’s return, but the margin fell short of the necessary two-thirds. At the time I called it the “worst possible outcome” for DFT. I also warned, “there’s still the danger that AFT could airdrop the locksmiths and take over the whole operation.”
Well, the airdrop wasn’t required because the DFT executive board opened the gates and let the army in.
Interim president Ivy Bailey – serving only “until a new election is held” – posted an open letter to members on the union’s web site on Friday, which related how she communicated with AFT president Randi Weingarten about DFT’s struggles:
President Weingarten’s first response to my letter was to come talk to us. She flew to Detroit to meet with the DFT executive board on Oct. 23. She asked questions. She listened to us. She spoke passionately about the depth of her personal commitment—and our national union’s professional commitment—to our union and to the communities our members serve. Then, on Nov. 2, I received a letter from President Weingarten…. In her letter, President Weingarten proposed a comprehensive approach, one that is equal to the serious crisis we face. The AFT suggested that a voluntary administratorship for the DFT was the most effective way, at this moment, to address our challenges.
The executive board approved the plan and it now awaits only the inevitable authorization of AFT’s Executive Council. So for a period of at least six months AFT will be running the Detroit Federation of Teachers, while the elected DFT board will “collaborate with the administrator on decision-making.” And the kicker: “Internal elections would be temporarily postponed to permit all DFT leaders and members to focus, for now, on the goals of the campaign.”
Conn couldn’t run again for the presidency because he was also booted from the union, but certainly there was a danger that one of his allies could activate his base and regain the office.
How does one rally the membership against a state takeover of local schools with a national takeover of the local union?