The U.S. Labor Department has asked a federal judge here to throw out the results of last May's election for president and eight other top offices of the Washington Teachers Union because of alleged violations of federal labor laws during the union's campaign last spring.
In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, the Labor Department said its investigators found that the union violated rules on secret ballots and denied its members both a right to be candidates or a reasonable opportunity to nominate candidates. The complaint also said the conduct of the election last May 18 did not comply with the union's constitution and by-laws.
The Labor Department, which refused to comment on the case yesterday, asked the court to direct the union to conduct a new election under its supervision.. Labor said the alleged violations "may have affected the outcome."
The investigation which led to Labor's official complaint last month was triggered by a protest about alleged election irregularities brought by Ballou Senior High School chemistry teacher James D. Ricks. Last May, Ricks lost his third attempt to unseat union president William H. Simons, who has led the teachers' bargaining unit since it was founded 17 years ago. Simons beat Ricks by a vote of 553 to 338.
"The whole thing is so crazy, really," Simons said during a telephone interview yesterday. Simons denied charges of improper conduct during the election and said he was "not concerned" about the Labor Department's complaint.
"I've been president since 1964 and certainly one does not remain in office by being inefficient, incompetent or whatever," Simons said.
Ricks, who has taught school in Washington since 1967, said he and his supporters "feel as if Mr. Simons and the executive board just out and out stole the election. There was no intent to carry it out properly.
"To be honest, I would like to be president of the Washington Teachers Union," Ricks said, adding, "I see there is a need for a good, strong, viable union and at the present time I don't think there is one."
Ricks first filed his allegations about election irregularities in June with the teachers union and with its parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers. In July, the national organization informed Ricks that an investigation would be conducted, but when no decision was reached within a required time period, Ricks' complaint was taken up by the Labor Department.
According to the complaint, Labor Department investigators then found "probable cause" to believe that the union had violated provisions of the Landrum-Griffin Act.
Union president Simons said he and an attorney for the union met with Labor Department representatives at the conclusion of the investigation, but refused their out-of-court demand that a new election be conducted.
"We didn't think there were any violations," Simons said.
"They the Labor Department had raised some questions about whether there was complete privacy in the voting," Simons said.
Simons said that 40 out of 100 teachers interviewed said they probably could have seen others' ballots and 10 of the 40 said they actually saw other teachers' ballots. There was no complaint that anyone had been forced to change his or her vote, Simons said.
Simons said there was another complaint that a person had been disqualified from running for a particular office. But he said that candidate was ineligible for the position he sought because of his teaching schedule.
Unlike the vast majority of teachers unions, the Washington bargaining unit is subject to federal labor law regulations because it represents some private as well as public school teachers, according to Robert G. Porter, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers. Porter said that scheduling problems delayed his organization's investigation of Ricks' complaints.