A schoolteacher who filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Washington Teachers' Union and its national parent organization is asking a federal judge to immediately dissolve the union's executive board.
Nathan A. Saunders, a history teacher at Anacostia Senior High School, asked the court to enter a temporary restraining order against the union's executive leadership, its 21-member board and the American Federation of Teachers in the wake of an alleged $2 million fraud scheme.
Saunders's 13-page suit says that the union's 5,000 teachers were defrauded of their dues by former union president Barbara A. Bullock, her chief assistant, Gwendolyn M. Hemphill, and James O. Baxter II, the union's former treasurer. It also alleges that the executive board failed to conduct required audits and that the national union was negligent in overseeing the local chapter.
"The executive board doesn't have the wherewithal to address the business needs of the organization," Saunders, a union member for four years, said yesterday. "This didn't happen overnight. . . . These people took the money, couldn't repay it and nobody knew there was a problem until people started looking for financial statements, which were nonexistent."
Saunders filed the suit himself after close of business Friday, asking the court to provide him with an attorney. The case was assigned to Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, who scheduled a hearing for Jan 7.
Esther S. Hankerson, the interim president of the union and the lead defendant, did not return a phone call to her office yesterday. Alex Wohl, a spokesman for the AFT, said the group has addressed many of the issues in the suit.
"We took this case to the U.S. attorney, we are working to get their money back, and we are working to put in safeguards for the future," Wohl said.
The alleged fraud came under investigation this year when the AFT alerted the U.S. attorney's office to discrepancies found in an internal probe. The local union was to have conducted audits but apparently had failed to do so.
Bullock, Hemphill and Baxter resigned during the AFT investigation. The FBI raided the homes of those three and several of their relatives 10 days ago, retrieving hundreds of items of expensive clothes, shoes, artwork and electronics that allegedly had been bought with union dues. No charges have been filed by federal prosecutors.
Saunders said he first noticed problems with union bookkeeping several months ago, after the union deducted $160 from one of his paychecks when only $24 was due. He said he called, faxed and attended union meetings trying to resolve the issue but was rebuffed.
The suit also asks the court to force the defendants to pay restitution, although Saunders said the issue was more about the future than the past. "This is obviously much larger than the $160 I'm out," he said. "This union has got to clean itself up. . . . If we don't address the major issues, we'll find this might happen again."