Sep 212011
 

According to the Texas Watchdog, the Houston Federation of Teachers, the largest teachers union in Houston, has paid nearly $500,000 in legal fees over a four year period to the union president’s son, James Fallon III. In comparison, the union paid approximately $520,000 to five other law firms during that time, according to documentation filed with U.S. Department of Labor. Additionally, the union paid $232,000 to its own general counsel during the same time period. 

The union’s president, Gayle Fallon, responded to criticism by stating that the hiring of her son was approved by the union’s board fourteen years ago and that her son charges an hourly rate much lower than the rates charged by the union’s other law firms. One of the union’s firms charges $400 an hour whereas Mr. Fallon charges $150 an hour. Additionally, the union’s general counsel’s hourly rate is $190. Ms. Fallon and her son also told the Watchdog that nepotism is not prohibited by the union.

One critic stated that union nepotism is problematic and that it may be “one of the reasons why the union isn’t as efficient as it should be.” A senior fellow for government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University stated that some questions must be answered in determining whether hiring a family member raises ethical issues: “Did this lawyer possess skills that others didn’t have? Was the hiring a fair and open process? Was this individual given preferential treatment because of the relationship?” 

Defending the union’s decision to hire her son, Ms. Fallon stated that her son, who has been practicing for fifteen years, would have been fired if he had not performed well. Additionally, Mr. Fallon stated that he “possesses at least three times the trial qualification necessary to become board certified in administrative law, the area of law relevant to defending teachers and school district employees.” 

Ms. Fallon also contended that the forms filed with the Labor Department are not entirely accurate with respect to how much the union paid to each law firm. Moreover, the Labor Department forms do not indicate the amount each law firm received in national insurance payments, which, Ms. Fallon stated, could be much more. “I guarantee others made a lot on insurance payments,” Ms. Fallon stated.