CTA, SDEA Won’t Seat Me — But Don’t Tell Me Till I Arrive in LA!

By Emily Neidhart, CTA State Council Delegate (sort of)

I drove up to LA on Friday for my first CTA State Council, expecting a weekend of Common Core, parliamentary procedure, and hopefully some cookies and punch. But we (Michelle Sanchez, Shane Parmely and I) couldn’t even register without stuff seriously hitting the fan.

Quick recap: I beat our current SDEA Vice President Lindsay Burningham and won the CTA seat waaaaay back in March. Burningham got the win thrown out by the previous SDEA Board, largely because the Election Committee is hand-picked by current leadership. The only direct communication I got at any point during the challenge process was a phone call from the Committee Co-Chair Kandi Nieto letting me know my victory was being challenged. I was never notified that the challenge was upheld, never notified about the process for the rerun election, and never given any direct guidance about whether or not I was actually holding the CTA seat. Instead, I learned what was happening along with everyone else at Rep. Council. Nieto told Rep. Council that I would hold the CTA seat until the rerun election was done.

Sounds simple, right? Nope. SDEA never turned in my name to CTA as the person holding the seat (but apparently had Burningham listed as a possible alternate). Based on Nieto’s Rep. Council instructions, I registered as a delegate. Then CTA called me saying they didn’t have me listed anywhere. I emailed SDEA Executive Director Tim Hill (and cc’d SDEA President Bill Freeman), who said he’d work with SDEA staff secretary Maureen Purvis to get it sorted out ahead of time. I heard nothing else after that, so I showed up in LA Friday night at the registration desk only to be told that my name was not submitted along with the other names by SDEA and that I was not a delegate. That means I couldn’t vote, and they wouldn’t reimburse me for the trip.

Here’s the kicker. Apparently SDEA leadership (and some of the SDEA staff) knew beforehand, and didn’t tell me! According to a conversation I had Saturday night with Freeman himself, Nieto, Burningham, and Freeman all knew that I would not be seated because Nieto notified Burningham directly that Burningham could not attend as an alternate due to the challenge. Apparently  Purvis also knew, since she’s the one Hill told me he would direct to handle it, and yet she evidently knew not to submit my name.

So why didn’t anyone call me? Freeman told me it’s because Nieto had a plane to catch. Not sure what happened to Freeman’s phone, or Election Committee Co-Chair Karen Ellsworth’s phone.

They also apparently didn’t keep Hill in the loop. He called me Saturday morning, sounding surprised and irritated by the situation, and assured me that SDEA would pick up the travel cost. I appreciate that since I never would have spent the money on the trip if I’d known I wouldn’t be reimbursed, and it’s obviously the right thing to do. But why did Freeman, Burningham, Nieto, and Purvis know that I wasn’t being seated, but the Executive Director (Purvis’ supervisor) didn’t? Why did they think it was okay to let me drive up to LA on my own dime knowing full well I wouldn’t be seated or reimbursed? Why did Nieto tell Rep. Council I would be seated when I wouldn’t be?

All of the people up at CTA who heard the story of this seat’s election were shocked. Setting aside my own misadventure, for this most recent CTA race, the ballots have been botched twice, the rerun is taking place seven months later, and Election Committee Co-Chair Kandi Nieto is currently on the ballot for a CTA seat herself, which is completely forbidden.

Here’s why all of this is more than just a frustrating story about one thing that happened to one union member. If we can’t trust our union leaders to run our elections, how can we trust them to bargain our next contract? If we have any hope of defending our paychecks, our healthcare, and our jobs, we need to be able to elect union leaders who will fight for our rights. That’s why these elections matter.

For my part, I’ll be on the ballot for the third time for the same CTA seat, against Burningham. I’d appreciate your vote, but more importantly, I’d appreciate a clean election. Here’s to voting for union leadership who will try to make that happen.


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