National transit union ousts Baltimore president, calls for new election

Bus drivers, dispatchers and other public transit employees in Baltimore will vote for a new local union president next week, following the ouster of their elected president by national union officials.

Union officials said Janice Murray was removed as president of the 2,600-member Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1300 because she owed the organization $200 in travel expenses from six years ago. Murray's victory was appealed by a rival candidate, the local's former president, who said unpaid travel expenses invalidated her candidacy. The national union agreed.

Alnett Queen, the vice president of the local union, also has been removed from office because of a similar travel debt, union officials said.

The organization is made up mostly of employees of the Maryland Transit Administration.

The removal of Murray and Queen — and the stripping of shop steward duties from another man, Larry Dunham — came last month after an investigation by the ATU into the years-old charges that the three improperly claimed travel expenses for a trip to a conference in 2008, said Lawrence Hanley, the ATU's international president.

"The facts are very clear. They're indisputable. They're not even denied," Hanley said.

Murray said she, Queen and Dunham are being "railroaded" by Hanley and others who want to see former president David McClure, who lost to Murray, return to office.

"I just think that what they're doing to me is really wrong," Murray said. "I think they are doing our membership a disservice, because our membership voted us in."

Murray said she was removed last month "unfairly, unjustly, without any kind of hearing or any kind of justification."

McClure could not be reached for comment.

Murray, a 57-year-old MTA dispatcher, said she had been following a "longstanding practice" in the union of officials accepting travel expenses for trips to conferences like the one she attended in Allentown, Pa., in 2008. She said the travel expenses had been explained to her as an "allowance."

When other officials raised questions about the amount she and others had received for the 2008 trip after discovering they had split costs by driving to the conference together, she said she tried to pay what she owed.

"They can't give me answers to anything, and they've never actively tried to collect the money," she said.

The issue eventually died down, and Murray said she continued serving in multiple official positions as a member in good standing. The travel expenses issue only resurfaced when she won the presidency in June, she said.

Queen also said he was never given an answer after asking multiple times how much he owed to the union, and he thought the issue was resolved until McClure raised it again.

Murray said she also feels targeted as the first woman to be elected president, she said.

Hanley said the international union thought the issue had been resolved through payments.

When McClure told officials following the election that the matter remained unresolved, Hanley said international union officials investigated again and determined Murray, Queen and Dunham had "refused to pay."

Queen, 59, was a train operator with the MTA for decades before being elected vice president of the union in 2007. He will now return to operating trains, he said. Murray said she'll go back to working as a dispatcher, and Dunham said he will keep working as a MTA bus operator.

Murray and Queen intend to challenge the international's actions but said they have been told their appeals won't occur until after the new election, which is scheduled March 19.

Hanley said Murray and Queen cannot run in next week's election, but could run in future elections if they resolve their debts.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun