The union was praised by then-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Its president, David Cicarella, was honored by the Obama White House in 2012 as a “School Turnaround Champion of Change.”
“New Haven is a gold standard in terms of how you do things right,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
But in 2019, the union made headlines for a different reason.
Cicarella was challenged for the presidency by his vice president and longtime friend Tom Burns. After the votes were counted and certified, Cicarella had won his fifth term by 20 votes.
Burns challenged the election on a number of grounds, most having to do with Cicarella allegedly using his powers of incumbency to gain an unfair advantage during the campaign. The challenge was dismissed by the union’s board, so Burns went up the chain — to AFT Connecticut, AFT national and the U.S. Department of Labor’s union oversight office.
During subsequent investigations, Burns withdrew some charges, and the rest were found to be without merit. However, AFT did determine that 27 members who worked as nurses in the private sector had not been allowed to vote. The national union ordered a rerun of the election.