Grassroots Activist Diamonte Brown Confirmed as Victor in Teachers Union Election

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) upheld former middle school teacher’s Diamonté Brown’s stunning victory to lead Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU) today. Back in May, Brown upset the Progressive Caucus slate headed by incumbent Marietta English who was seeking her ninth term only to have those results challenged.

The election’s record turnout, “was a powerful affirmation of our union as a democratic organization and over 1700 members stood up to have their voices heard,” Brown said at a press conference about the victory this afternoon, flanked by members of her coalition, Baltimore Movement of Rank and File Educators (BMORE) and Caucus of Educators for Democracy and Equity (CEDE).

Earlier in the day, the AFT released the findings of its investigation which confirmed the validity of the disputed May 15th election from which Brown emerged victorious.

Brown is the latest win amid a national wave of grassroots activists fighting to improve learning conditions for students and battling austerity and privatization.

“What I’m hoping is that we have inspired other teachers and PSRPs [paraprofessionals and school-related personnel] to stand up,” Brown said. “In order to change working conditions we have to be brave enough to expose the challenges in our working conditions that exist.”

Studies have found Baltimore schools are underfunded by at least a quarter of a billion dollars a year.

AFT’s decision was based on a testimony gathered on June 10th from supporters of both Brown and English. The report, obtained by The Real News invalidated the decision of the BTU’s Nominations and Elections Committee, appointed by English, to call for a new election.

English, who had previously refused to concede, posted a statement on Facebook: “The report released by AFT today clearly lays out that egregious violations took place during the election process and I strongly disagree with the conclusion that even with these violations a new election would not be held.”

English did not respond to a request for an interview.

AFT’s investigation did conclude however that BMORE/CEDE violated BTU election rules during four instances when teachers used their work emails to promote campaign events, and three instances in which school property was used to host cookout fundraisers. The impact of those actions however, was minimal, the report says: “We cannot conclude that this activity could have affected the election.”

The report also found fault with the decision of BTU Nominations and Election Committee, to call for a new election. The report found the committee failed to cite “what violations the committee found,” and also failed to “give the BMORE/CEDE caucus an opportunity to respond to the particular allegations or to make the argument that any violations that occurred did not affect the election.”

The design of electronic ballot used in the election was “confusing,” and “could have been viewed to favor the English slate,” the report concluded, affirming a primary complaint of teachers The Real News spoke to on election day back in May.

The Nominations and Elections Committee’s changes to election rules prior to the May 19th election, “created an overly restrictive environment,” and “neither candidates nor members were properly educated about the new rules.”  It also noted that the committee argued the changes were necessary to comply with City Schools guidelines, but “ the respective BCPSS rules do not appear to prohibit the conduct at issue.”

The AFT suggested BTU adopt “reasonable campaigning rules that permit greater access to the voters by all candidates and that facilitates member participation in elections to the greatest extent possible.”

The report implored both sides bridge their differences, and is sending a national to work with BTU through the end of the year.

BTU is currently engaged in contract negotiations with Baltimore City Schools.

Meanwhile Marietta English will continue serving as president of AFT-MD. The union will be engaged in a heavy lobbying effort again this year to urge the Maryland legislature and Governor Larry Hogan to adopt the Kirwan’s Commission’s proposal to boost education funding by ten percent over the next decade.

“While some may see a contentious election as an indication of disunity within the union, it actually shows how important the union is to so many people, and the challenges reaffirm that we are committed to the democratic process,” Brown said.

“The tide is turning, rapidly, against the kind of teacher unionism we’ve had since the 1990s,” argues Dr. Lois Weiner, an author and independent researcher, and former career teacher and education professor. “Every victory sparks organizing elsewhere. This will too.”

This story has been updated.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.