A.F.T. Welcomes Blacklisted Ex-N.E.A. Local Into Fold
Only a fraction of the teachers working in the Timberlane school district today were around when N.E.A.-New Hampshire imposed sanctions against their local in the wake of a bitter strike in 1974.
But each year for the past 17 years, the state union's delegate assembly has voted to maintain the sanctions against the Timberlane Teachers' Association.
Faced with negotiating a new contract this fall, the Timberlane teacher late last month tired of waiting and voted to affiliate with the N.E.A.'S rival, the American Federation of Teachers.
"What really concerned us is you had these 230 people in a bargaining unit. About 210 or so had nothing to do with what happened in Timberlane in 1974, and they were being penalized," said Ed J. Phaneuf, executive director of the A.F.T. in northern New England. "It seemed like it was time we did something for these people."
Officials of N.E.A.-New Hampshire have a different perspective.
"Apparently their policy has changed [allowing A.F.T.] to cross a picket line that was still up, albeit an invisible one," said Fred Place, president of the state N .E.A. "Obviously, it was a disappointment to us that they did not honor the sanctions because, frankly, the Timberlane strike was considered an effort by all labor."
In 1974, New Hampshire had no collective-bargaining law. Consequently, the district fired the approximately 100 teachers who walked out, and hired replacement workers.
The N.E.A. filed sanctions against the district, which remain in place today. As far as the union is concerned, the strike is still in effect.
In 1976, the state passed a collective-bargaining law that, many believe, resulted from the Timberlane strike. In 1977, Timberlane formed its own union.
Periodically, the union sought reinstatement to the N.E.A., which was denied because some strikebreakers remained in the local. In 1990, the delegates agreed to form a committee to investigate the situation, including seeking interviews with the fired teachers.
This past April, Mr. Place said, delegates decided they needed more information to make a determination.
He expected the matter to come up again next April. "I felt encouraged that it probably would be a positive vote, but in no way could I guarantee that," he said. "Even those teachers who had lost their positions at Timberlane... were coming to the conclusion that enough time had passed and that they needed to be organized."
But with no guarantee, the Timberlane teachers did not want to wait, especially given the imminent expiration of their contract. Taxpayers in the four communities that make up the district voted down their raises this past year, and teachers believed they needed the expertise, resources, and support of a national union, said Maureen White, the local's president.
Moreover, she said, there was the question of what would happen to the 14 to 20 individuals still with the district from the time of the strike if N.E.A. decided to lift the sanctions. "It was either all of us or none of us," Ms. White explained.
After a series of meetings, including one with the N.E.A., the teachers voted 146 to 19 to join the A.F.T.
The irony, said Ms. White, an N.E.A. member for 20 years in Massachusetts before taking a job in Timberlane in 1988, is that the majority of strikebreakers were long gone and affiliated with other locals. "They're N.E.A. members; nothing has happened to them," she said.
Similarly, the N.E.A. Wisconsin affiliate in continues to impose sanctions against a district whose workers were fired in 1974. The Hortenville strike, which ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court, led to passage of a binding-arbitration law in Wisconsin.
One Michigan district is in a situation similar to that of Hortonville.
Like its sister organization in New Hampshire, Wisconsin's N.E.A. representative assembly has endorsed the sanctions each and every year. "We will not affiliate the current local until every one of the original strikebreakers is off the staff," said Richard Collins, state president.
The Wisconsin A.F.T. has shown no interest in affiliating Hortonville, Mr. Collins said--an act that could jeopardize the two unions' attempts to merge. (See Education Week, May 8, 1991 .)
Mr. Collins, who was in his third year of teaching at the time of the strike, said he was one of many union members from across the state who walked the picket line.
Teachers were arrested and jailed, he recalled, and gunshots were fired.
"It is something that has left emotional scars in that community today,'' he said.
Mr. Place said the same is true of Timberlane.
"Wounds still run deep," he said. "Some teachers ... got out of teaching completely. Some of them lost their homes; some of their marriages fell apart. We have to really appreciate the sacrifice those people made on our behalf."
According to Mr. Phaneuf, the A.F.T. would never have affiliated Timberlane had there been a sizable share of strikebreakers left. "It had been 17 years since the strike. It was time to bury the skeleton."
Vol. 11, Issue 06, Page 10