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N.E.A. Clears Motion To Allow Panel To Keep Exploring Merger With A.F.T.

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WASHINGTON--The National Education Association has taken another small step in the lengthy process that could ultimately lead to a merger with the American Federation of Teachers.

A committee chaired by Keith Geiger, the N.E.A.'s president, has met three times since being appointed in December to explore the union's 1976 policy prohibiting merger with any labor groups affiliated with the A.F.L.-C.I.O. At its meeting earlier this month, the N.E.A.'s board of directors voted overwhelmingly to ask the union's Representative Assembly to allow that panel to continue examining the affiliation policy for another year.

There is no point in the committee proceeding with its work, Mr. Geiger noted, without the approval of the 8,000-member Representative Assembly, which will meet at the union's annual convention this summer.

Mr. Geiger also said he hopes the action will help head off attempts by assembly members to introduce motions calling on the N.E.A. to reaffirm the 1976 policy or to pursue merger with the A.F.T. more aggressively.

"I just don't think our committee is ready to make a decision yet without more study or investigation,'' Mr. Geiger said.

The motion calls on the committee to continue its work and report back to the board of directors by May 1993, in time for a new business item to be introduced next summer.

Past N.E.A. presidents had ruled out discussing a possible merger, but Mr. Geiger said he has felt increasing pressure from many of the union's state and local affiliates, which are tired of fighting with A.F.T. affiliates over who will represent teachers.

"I get a lot of sentiment that our people aren't afraid to investigate the policy,'' he said. "I don't see a lot of sentiment for merger.''

One N.E.A. leader who would like to see a merger with the A.F.T. is Jeff Wright, the president of the N.E.A.'s state affiliate in Florida.

"If it makes sense to work together, there ought to be some way to put together one organization,'' said Mr. Wright, a member of the study committee. "How we put it together, Lord only knows.''

Albert Shanker, the president of the A.F.T., which is already affiliated with the A.F.L.-C.I.O., has welcomed the N.E.A.'s discussion of the issue and indicated his support for a merger.

In other business, the N.E.A. board of directors also approved a report on "streamlining'' that calls for changes in the union's dues and governance structures. The report recommends basing dues on members' annual salary rather than on job category, and changing the composition of the union's executive committee to ensure the representation of higher-education and support personnel. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991.)

The assembly will also vote on the streamlining report this summer.

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