Labor Union

Washington Teachers Union (WTU)




Tax ID:


Tax-Exempt Status:


Budget (2017):

Revenue: $4,563,841
Expenses: $4,087,733
Assets: $6,222,046

Project of:

American Federation of Teachers

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The Washington Teachers Union is the labor union representing District of Columbia Public Schools teachers. The union is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the national left-leaning teacher union conglomerate, and is identified as AFT Local 6. The union is a powerful political force within the far-left local politics in the District of Columbia and pushes to pass far-left education policies through the D.C. Council, notably opposing various forms of teacher evaluations. The union is often at the forefront of various media stories surrounding ongoings in the D.C. Public School System, particularly regarding the organization’s strident opposition to reopening schools amid COVID-19.

In 2003, then-Washington Teachers Union President Barbara Bullock pled guilty to an embezzlement scheme that defrauded over $4.6 million from the union to fund lavish shopping sprees and personal living expenses and led to the conviction of two other union officials with close ties to then-Mayor Anthony Williams (D-DC) in 2006. Bullock was sentenced to nine years in prison. 1


Predecessors and Foundation

The Washington Teachers Union as it exists today was formed in 1953 and traces its roots to the early 20th century. Soon after the American Federation of Teachers was founded in 1916 in Chicago, teachers began union organizing in response to many teachers being fired for getting married and not having a say in school assignment. One of the AFTs first battles was the establishment of tenure in D.C. Public Schools, which led to teachers from neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland, beginning to move over to the D.C. system. 2

A predecessor to the current union, the Washington, D.C. Association of Attendance Officers was organized as AFT Local 867 in 1946 and was among the first desegregated local unions. The existence of AFT Local 867 prompted the AFT to amend its national constitution to phase out segregated local chapters. In June 1953, the current-day version of the Washington Teachers Union was formed when two local AFT chapters in the district, AFT Local 27 and Local 8, merged, making the union the sole bargaining agent for all public school teachers in the District of Columbia. The union lobbied for several reforms in a 1968 contract that included free lunch periods, planning periods, and a school chapter advisory committee. The unique nature of the political structure of the District of Columbia’s government led the union to frequently lobby congress for raises. In 1968 congress passed an 18% raise for teachers in the district after a walk-out over the fact that local bus drivers were earning more than the starting salary of a teacher at the time. 3


In 1972, the Washington Teachers Union led a two-week strike involving half of the 7,000 teachers in the district. The strike was among the largest and most notable in the organization’s history and was waged over salary and class sizes. 4 The strike led to the closure of all schools in the district and affected approximately 140,000 students. Towards the end of the strike, a judge ordered that the leaders of the union would be jailed within four days if a settlement was not reached and imposed a $50,000 fine on the union. 5

In 1978, the Washington Teachers Union broke ranks with the rest of organized labor in D.C. and endorsed activist Marion Barry (D) for Mayor over incumbent Mayor Walter Washington (D-DC). When Barry was elected, the union claimed to be the decisive factor in his election victory. The next year, the union embarked on another major strike, which led to the school board asking for a temporary restraining order from the union during the bitter strike. Barry did not request a restraining order; observers would characterize his tumultuous tenure as Mayor as helpful to the union. 6

The 1979 strike lasted 23 days and was the longest in the history of the District of Columbia. Schools remained open during the strike which involved an estimated 50% to 70% of the District of Columbia’s teachers. At the urging of Mayor Barry, a judge ruled that an expired contract that the school board had declined to renew would be extended during negotiations. The contract extension put an end to the strike, which remains the most recent teachers strike in the District of Columbia. 7

The Washington Teachers Union was headed for 25 years from the 1960s to 1980s by Williams “Bill” Simons, who led the union through both the 1972 and the 1979 strikes. Simons became a major voice in the D.C. labor union community during his tenure and frequently fought bitterly with the school board, the D.C. Council, and Congress, demanding the resignation of the school board during the 1979 strike. 8

Embezzlement Scandal

In 2002, a seven-year embezzlement scandal was uncovered involving three officials of the Washington Teachers Union. Former union president Barbara A. Bullock, former treasurer James O. Baxter, and office manager Gwendoyln Hemphill were all charged by federal prosecutors in a multi-year scheme to steal nearly $5 million from the union. It was alleged by prosecutors that the three used union funds for personal expenses, embarked on lavish spending sprees with union funds, and developed schemes to conceal the theft. The scheme was uncovered when it was discovered that the union began deducting $16 from teacher’s paychecks instead of $1.60 to pay debts of the union and keep the organization afloat while the theft continued. 9

In 2003, Barbara Bullock, the union’s president, pled guilty to embezzlement and was sentenced to nine years in federal prison. Later, in 2005, Gwendolyn Hemphill, the office manager, who also held a high level position on the campaign of D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D), and James Baxter, the union’s treasurer who also worked for the D.C. government as its labor liaison, were put to trial as part of the scheme. James Goosby, an accountant for the union who was not accused of stealing money, was also charged with concealing the fraud in the union’s books. 10

After an audit was conducted in response to increased payroll deductions for teachers in 2002, nearly $5 million was deemed missing from the union. Later that year, the FBI raided union officials’ homes to find designer clothes and wigs, furs, artwork, and financial records that linked the lavish spending to union funds and revealed that money had been spent on cars, vacations, and courtside seats to Washington Wizards games. 11

During the trial of Hemphill and Baxter, former union President Barbara Bullock turned government’s evidence. Bullock said that the three had engaged in a scheme in which most of the embezzlement was in the form of Bullock charging lavish expenses to her union credit card. Items charged to the union card included a $50,000 silver flatware set, a catered wedding at her home, NBA season tickets, a $5,000 silver champagne cooler, and a $40,000 custom-made fur coat she purchased while on a cruise with retired teachers in Alaska. Bullock further stated that she had arranged with Hemphill to have statements sent to Hemphill’s home and that Hemphill and her husband charged $29,000 in dental implants to the card as well. 12

Bullock’s lavish spending cost tens of thousands of dollars to the union monthly, and it was noted that she regularly spent $5,000 a month at a single high-end shop. Bullock’s testimony was noteworthy for the candor and excitement with which she recounted her purchases and expressed her love of shopping and high-end goods. A reporter noted that at times during her testimony against Baxter and Hemphill, that “Bullock gave the jury a course in high fashion. Male mink pelts, she explained, are heavier than the pelts of female minks and preferable for winter wear. St. John makes the best quality designer knits.” 13

In addition to fraudulent credit card use, the union leaders used shell companies and fake invoices to conceal theft, with one such company called Expressions Unlimited, being run by Hemphill’s son-in-law Michael Wayne Martin and his friend Errol Alderman. 14

Following the trial of Hemphill, Baxter and Goosby, both Hemphill and Baxter were found guilty while Goosby was acquitted. Hemphill was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison and Baxter was sentenced to ten. 15

Political Activity

The Washington Teachers Union endorsed candidates at the local level in the District of Columbia and in Democratic Presidential Primaries. In 2020, the union endorsed far-left progressive District Council candidates Jordan Grossman (D), Janeese Lewis George (D), Anthony Lorenzo Green, and Trayon White. The union also endorsed self-described democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. 16

The union frequently pushes the D.C. Council for increased funding and programs for rank-and-file teachers, while opposing teacher evaluation systems. The union is strongly opposed to the District’s IMPACT teacher evaluation system, blaming the system for the high teacher turnover rate in the District. Currently, local laws prohibit the union from negotiating teacher evaluation systems and the union is supporting a bill from left-progressive members of the Council to allow teacher evaluations to be subject to negotiations. 17 A 2007 landmark education reform bill in the District of Columbia took away that bargaining ability regarding teacher evaluations, significantly weakening the bargaining power of the union. Under the proposed legislation, the union would wield more power over the government in negotiations. 18


Elizabeth A. Davis is the current president of the Washington Teachers Union. Davis has 44 years of experience teaching in the District of Columbia and holds a master’s degree from American University. Davis was first elected to her position in 2013. 19

In May 2019, Davis was charged in a DUI-related crash from the prior winter. There was no on-site citation issued at the scene of the crash, but Davis admitted what she called a lapse in judgement after attending a party. Davis was cited with five charges including driving under the influence and reckless driving. Her opponent for the presidency of the union, Nathan Saunders, called for Davis to withdraw from the race. Davis declined to withdraw and was re-elected to her position. Davis was expected to pay a fine and attend a driving course. 20

COVID-19 Reopening Opposition

During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington Teachers Union has been adamantly opposed to any reopening of schools, and the fall 2020 school reopening plan proposed by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) was blocked by the union. 21

In July 2020, the Washington Teachers Union launched a publicity stunt in which it lined up fake body bags outside the offices of the school system to protest the return to classrooms. The stunt featured stuffed garbage bags duct taped into the shape of bodies and signs reading “RIP Favorite Teacher,” “Distance Only,” and “Killed in the Line of Duty.” 22 The stunt was debated and decried by many for being melodramatic while opponents affirmed that teachers should not be paid if they sat out voluntarily. 23

The labor board in the District of Columbia ruled that the D.C. Public Schools violated its labor agreement by not negotiating its reopening plan with the Washington Teachers Union, a move that delayed the planned November 9th reopening of schools and forced the school system to begin negotiating a reopening plan with the schools. 24

As the union’s opposition to reopening schools intensified through the summer and fall of 2020, the union urged all of its members to take a “mental health day” in early November as it prepared to announce its summary of concerns regarding the mayor’s reopening plan. 25 The same day, just days before schools were originally set to reopen in November 9th, the Washington Teachers Union announced a vote of ‘No Confidence’ in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan, stating that the two sides were unable to come to any kind of agreement and that schools should remain closed. 26


  1. Weiss, Eric. “Ex-Union Aide Gets 11 Years for Embezzling Longtime Scheme Cost D.C. Teachers’ Group More Than $4 Million.” Washington Post. May 23, 2006. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  2. “Mission and History.” Washington Teachers Union. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  3. “Mission and History.” Washington Teachers Union. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  4. Autermuhle, Martin. “D.C. Teachers Asked to Wear Red in Solidarity With Striking Educators in Chicago.” Dcist. September 12, 2012. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  5. “Jailing Delayed for D.C. Teachers.” New York Times. September 29, 1972. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  6. Williams, Juan. “At the Center of the School Strike.” Washington Post. March 12, 1979. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  7. “Washington Teachers End a Strike After Court Reinstates Labor Pact.” New York Times. March 30, 1979. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  8. “In Memoriam: Former Washington Teachers’ Union President William “Bill” Simons” Metro- Washington Council AFL-CIO. December 9, 2016. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  9. Leonnig, Carol. “D.C. Teachers Union Scandal Outlined.” Washington Post. June 10, 2005. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  10. Leonnig, Carol. “D.C. Teachers Union Scandal Outlined.” Washington Post. June 10, 2005. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  11. Leonnig, Carol. “D.C. Teachers Union Scandal Outlined.” Washington Post. June 10, 2005. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  12. Leonnig, Carol. “Bullock Brazenly Recounts Embezzling.” Washington Post. June 17, 2005. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  13. Leonnig, Carol. “Bullock Brazenly Recounts Embezzling.” Washington Post. June 17, 2005. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  14. “Two Convicted, One Acquitted in D.C. Teachers Union Embezzlement Scheme.” National Legal and Policy Center. September 12, 2005. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  15. “Former D.C. Teachers’ Union Treasurer Going To Prison.” Center for Education Reform. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  16. “Home.” Washington Teachers Union. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  17. “Legislative Center.” Washington Teachers Union. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  18. “How D.C. Became the Darling of Education Reform.” American Prospect. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  19. “Elizabeth Davis.” LinkedIn Profile. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  20. Baca, Nathan. “Washington Teachers Union President cited for DUI.” ABC 7 News. May 29, 2019. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  21. “Washington Teachers’ Union votes ‘no confidence’ in DCPS school reopening plan.” ABC 7 News. November 2, 2020. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  22. “DC Teachers Line Up Body Bags to Protest School Reopening.” Townhall. July 29, 2020. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  23. “DC Teachers Line Up Body Bags to Protest School Reopening.” Townhall. July 29, 2020. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  24. Truong, Debbie. “Labor Board Ruling Throws D.C. Public Schools’ Teacher Staffing Into Question Weeks Before Some Schools Reopen.” Dcist. October 21, 2020. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  25. “Washington Teachers’ Union votes ‘no confidence’ in DCPS school reopening plan.” ABC 7 News. November 2, 2020. Accessed November 16, 2020.
  26. “Washington Teachers’ Union votes ‘no confidence’ in DCPS school reopening plan.” ABC 7 News. November 2, 2020. Accessed November 16, 2020.
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: June - May
  • Tax Exemption Received: November 1, 1953

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Jun Form 990 $4,563,841 $4,087,733 $6,222,046 $5,105,606 N $0 $4,419,990 $0 $371,693 PDF
    2016 Jun Form 990 $4,322,527 $4,027,833 $6,343,404 $5,703,071 N $0 $4,258,839 $0 $115,885
    2015 Jun Form 990 $4,018,964 $3,909,624 $6,763,260 $6,103,487 N $0 $3,965,737 $0 $513,492 PDF
    2014 Jun Form 990 $3,773,874 $3,883,388 $6,419,788 $5,869,355 N $0 $3,733,975 $0 $282,908 PDF
    2013 Jun Form 990 $4,246,671 $4,105,895 $4,412,154 $3,711,676 N $3,659,026 $284,498 $146 $0 PDF
    2012 Jun Form 990 $4,213,796 $4,205,492 $3,489,947 $2,930,245 N $3,770,895 $318,948 $1,079 $177,620 PDF
    2011 Jun Form 990 $3,963,195 $4,556,872 $869,347 $317,949 N $3,519,854 $289,360 $8,341 $266,691 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Washington Teachers Union (WTU)

    WASHINGTON, DC 20003-2227