While Ill. and Iowa Resist, Fla. and Wis. Seek Unity
In sharp contrast to their fellow Midwesterners in Minnesota, members of the Illinois Education Association are dead set against the "principles of unity" for merging their national affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers.
When the approximately 1,000 delegates from the IEA gathered last month in Chicago for the association's Representative Assembly, 75 percent voted against a national merger. Not even appearances by Bob Chase, the president of the National Education Association, and Illinois' own Reg Weaver, the NEA vice president, could sway the delegates.
The actions of the Illinois affiliate, as well as NEA locals in other states, suggest that a single, 3.26-million-member teachers' union is not a done deal.
Delegates to the NEA's Representative Assembly, set for July 1-6 in New Orleans, will be asked to approve the principles to allow merger at the national level to move forward. Under the principles, state affiliates would be encouraged to unify, but not required to do so.
George King, a spokesman for the 98,000-member Illinois association, stressed that the delegates who attend the NEA's meeting are not obligated to vote against merger.
Still, Illinois teachers think about their own state, where the Chicago Teachers Union dominates the 75,000-member Illinois Federation of Teachers, the aft affiliate. Members are worried about "the potential domination of bloc voting by the likes of the city of Chicago" under a merged Illinois union, Mr. King said.
Delegates want to preserve the NEA's tradition of one person, one vote, Mr. King said, and are wary of affiliating with the AFL-CIO, to which the AFT belongs. The Illinois Education Association has been pursuing a bipartisan political strategy that would be at odds with the umbrella labor organization's support of Democrats, he said.
Elsewhere across the nation, the principles of unity have been a big topic this spring as NEA state affiliates hold their annual meetings, most of which conclude next month. Top NEA leaders have been appearing at question-and-answer sessions to discuss the agreement.
In general, members of the AFT aren't taking similar votes on a merger, according to Janet Bass, a spokeswoman for the federation. The 400,000-member New York State United Teachers, however, does plan to consider a resolution on a national merger at its meeting later this week.
In Iowa, 73 percent of the more than 400 delegates to the 39,000-member Iowa State Education Association meeting voted this month to continue their opposition to a merger as long as the new national organization would be affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
Other NEA state affiliates that have debated national merger include Kentucky, with 37,000 members, and New Hampshire, with 12,000. Kentucky delegates defeated a motion supporting the concept of merger, but adopted no official position. They plan to hold a forum on the issue before July, said Janet Carrico, KEA's president. In New Hampshire, delegates voted overwhelmingly against it.
While delegates to the 9,400-member Delaware State Education Association didn't take a formal vote, many members there are concerned that their small state's voice would be lost in a much larger national organization, said Pamela T. Nichols, the association's spokeswoman.
Mel Myler, the executive director of NEA-New Hampshire, noted that the proposed voting rules for the "United Organization"--as documents currently refer to the merged national--include secret ballots, but call for votes to be "weighted" based on the size of the delegations to a convention and for vote counts to be recorded by state and local affiliates.
"That's a union model," Mr. Myler said. "That is a serious breach to those of us who have been involved in NEA."
Weighing the Options
In Wisconsin, where the NEA and AFT affiliates have been awaiting a national agreement before drafting their own merger accord, the board of directors of the 83,000-member Wisconsin Education Association Council recommended this month that delegates support the national-unity principles.
In Florida--where state leaders have been eager for a merger--delegates to the 60,000-member Florida Teaching Profession-NEA meeting will be asked next month to approve not only the national principles, but also a set of tenets for forging a single state teachers' union.
The 11,000-member Montana Education Association voted this month to approve a new constitution to merge with the 5,000-member Montana Federation of Teachers.
Both the Missouri NEA, with 27,000 members, and the 6,300-member Wyoming Education Association voted in support of the national-unity principles.
California, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas are keeping their options open.