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N.E.A. To Discuss Policy on Teacher-Union Mergers

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For the first time since the National Education Association adopted a "unity policy" in 1976, its board of directors last month opened discussions on the possibility of merging with other teachers' unions.

"We believe all teachers should be in one organization," Keith B. Geiger, president of the more than 2-million-member nea, said, reiterating the policy that also forbids merging with groups affiliated with other labor unions.

Characterizing the talks at the December meeting as open, healthy, and unemotional, Mr. Geiger said the board will devote a full day at its meeting next month to exploring4n.e.a.'s relationship with such groups as the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors.

"What I really wanted to do," Mr. Geiger said, "was set the stage for us to talk about our policy."

During the next couple of years, he said, the nea will examine the structures of the other unions and the advantages and disadvantages of joining forces with each.

The board's actions and Mr. Geiger's acknowledgment signal further movement toward the nea's potential unification with the other major classroom teachers' union, the 750,000-member aft A merger with the a.a.u.p., which represents about 43,000 higher-education facul8ty members, is also seen as possible.

The fusion of the three unions would result in an especially potent educational and political force with a membership of nearly 3 million.

At the aft's convention last summer, Albert Shanker, president of the aft, an affiliate of the afl-cio, publicly raised the issue of merger.

In his reply, Mr. Geiger said that, although merger was not a top priority, he did not flatly reject the possibility as his predecessors had. (See Education Week, Aug. 1, 1990.)

While interest in merger is growing, Mr. Geiger said that n.e.a. leaders' efforts to restructure the organization may be postponed. He noted that some board members voiced concern that plans were moving too fast.

A "streamlining committee" has been reviewing possible changes in such areas as the union's dues structure and constituency representation.

Neither the a.f.t. nor a.a.u.p. is likely to sign on to a merger until the n.e.a. resolves such issues.

"This is not the first time these talks have happened, and I'm sure it's not the last," said Iris Molotsky, director of membership development for the a.a.u.p.

Noting that the aaup would reap some benefits from merging with the n.e.a., Ms. Molotsky said, "there are also internecine differences."

Moreover, to unite with the a.f.t., either the a.f.t. would have to sever its ties with the afl-cio, or the n.e.a. would have to change its policy.

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