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A.F.T. Panel To Study the Union's Structure, Goals, Policies

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The American Federation of Teachers, which has advocated a restructuring of schools and the teaching profession, is now looking inward to determine whether the union's own structure, and some of its policies and goals, needs to be rethought.

The union's executive council in February established a task force to examine the union's role and organization and to develop a long-range strategic plan, union officials said in interviews last week.

The council's action came at the urging of the A.F.T.'s president, Albert Shanker, and two of its most influential vice presidents, officials said.

In creating the study panel, they noted, the council is simply picking up where the A.F.T. Task Force on the Future of Education left off last summer when it released its report, "The Revolution That Is Overdue: Looking Toward the Future of Teaching and Learning.'' (See Education Week, Sept. 10, 1986.)

"As we move forward on the professionalization of teaching agenda ... it becomes increasingly obvious that the A.F.T. task force ... completed only half of its task,'' Pat L. Tornillo Jr., one of the vice presidents calling for the self-scrutiny, wrote in a Feb. 19 letter to Mr. Shanker.

"Just as we have laid out a long-range flexible blueprint for the future of education and technology,'' he added, "we must look at long-range strategies in planning for the future of the A.F.T.''

And in a 4-page letter dated Jan. 8, Edward J. McElroy Jr., the other vice president initiating the effort, wrote:

"Recent events in and outside the labor movement, such as the continuing decline in organized labor membership and the inability of many unions to successfully organize in their own area, as well as less traditional areas, create the need for us to do an in-depth analysis of our own organization.''

In addition, he said, "recent events in the field of education, the many issues raised by the various levels of educational reform, make the study important from a policy point of view.''

The "changing membership of the A.F.T. and the expected continuing change,'' he said, also make such a study "appropriate at this time.''

The A.F.T. currently says it has roughly 640,000 members, including teachers, school paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel, health workers, and state employees.

In recent years, the union's largest membership growth has come from state employees and paraprofessionals and other school personnel, according to an A.F.T. spokesman.

Both Mr. Tornillo, president of the Florida Education Association United, and Mr. McElroy, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, are influential members of the union's executive council, which comprises Mr. Shanker and the union's 34 vice presidents. Both letters, which have not been circulated outside the union, were discussed at the February executive-council meeting, officials said.

The task force membership will include, among others, Mr. Shanker and the six other members of the union council's executive committee.

In his letter, Mr. McElroy outlines six broad topics he says should be included in the union's internal study and poses a series of questions for each.

He takes no positions on any of the issues raised.

The outlined topics, and some the points and questions he raises, are:

  • Governance: The issue of governance should be studied, Mr. McElroy says, "from the national point of view as well as from the point of interrelationships between organizational levels.''

The union, he says, should examine the structure and function of the executive council and its committees, as well as the overall structure of the A.F.T.

"Do we need a state federation in each state?'' he asks. "Do we need that level at all? How does the regional structure of the A.F.T. fit into the state federation plan?''

  • Organizing and servicing structure: "Our union lives or dies by its ability to grow and remain strong,'' Mr. McElroy writes.

The A.F.T., he notes, has made the necessary policy decisions to diversify its membership. "Nonetheless,'' he adds, "we have to work diligently and spend freely to show marginal growth.''

"How well does the A.F.T. function as a union organizing new members?'' he asks. "What is our true unit cost for organizing? Are there more effective and more efficient methods being used by other unions?''

  • Collective bargaining: "We still have a significant number of teachers not covered by collective bargaining,'' Mr. McElroy writes. "Although we see surface kinds of data indicating relative salary scales of teachers in various states and regions of the country, we have not seen an in-depth analysis of the net effect of collective bargaining.''

"How important is collective bargaining to our rank-and-file members?'' he asks. "Has collective bargaining been flexible in areas where change--education-reform initiatives, for example--has been needed?''

  • The A.F.L.-C.I.O.: "In many collective-bargaining campaigns, we are told that A.F.L.-C.I.O. affiliation is a negative to be overcome, rather than a positive to benefit our organizing campaigns,'' says Mr. McElroy, who is president of the Rhode Island A.F.L.-C.I.O.

"What is the real impact to our members of A.F.L.-C.I.O. affiliation?'' he asks. "How is organizing affected by affiliation?''

  • The National Education Association and merger: "The question of merger has been dealt with in fits and starts by both organizations for some time,'' Mr. McElroy writes. "Is merger with the N.E.A. a real possibility?'' he asks. "Should we make the first move?''

Mr. McElroy notes that there have been rumors that the N.E.A. "would appeal'' for direct affiliation with the A.F.L.-C.I.O. "Although there is ample historical precedence for more than one union of similar workers being in the A.F.L.-C.I.O., we have not really given this any consideration,'' he says.

"How should we respond to the issue of direct affiliation?'' he asks.

  • A.F.T. leadership: "We seem to take for granted that the people who have led our union for the past 20 years will always be there,'' Mr. McElroy writes. "This,'' he adds, "is obviously not the case, and we should make preparations for the next 20 years.''

Mr. Tornillo does not go into such detail in his letter. He notes, however, that his state affiliate in Florida is developing its own long-range plan, addressing such issues as internal structure, organizing goals, collective-bargaining strategies, and relationships with affiliates and the business community.

The A.F.T. "should embark'' on a similar planning agenda, he says.

In an interview last week, Mr. Shanker said the issues raised in both letters are important, and that the union's leadership "ought to deal with them.''

"We have done this in the past,'' he said. "It is the kind of thing that an organization that is growing constantly has to do.''

The discussions, he said, should result in "a number of significant changes.''

Adam Urbanski, another A.F.T. vice president, said, "I am delighted our organization is doing this.''

"The fact that there are such serious changes considered in our industry ought to motivate any organization to take inventory of where they fit in and where they will fit in in the future,'' said Mr. Urbanski, who is president of the A.F.T.'s Rochester affiliate.

"Any national, state, or local union that doesn't want to be left in the dust as things change in our industry will follow this example,'' he said.

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