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Published in Print: May 27, 1998, as AFT Executive Board Unanimously Endorses Merger Plan

AFT Executive Board Unanimously Endorses Merger Plan

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With last week's 29-0 vote in favor of merger by the executive council of the American Federation of Teachers, the question of whether the two national teachers' unions will combine to become the country's largest single labor organization now goes before the people who can actually make it happen: the thousands of delegates who will represent the unions' members at their annual meetings this summer.

The leadership of both organizations has registered support for a set of guidelines to direct a merger. By a 2-1 ratio, the National Education Association's board of directors gave its nod to the "principles of unity" two weeks earlier. ("NEA Board OKs Principles for AFT Merger," May 13, 1998.)

To go forward, the merger must win approval of two-thirds of the delegates at the unions' annual meetings, both of which are to be held this July in New Orleans.

The outcome of the votes by the unions' top governing bodies this month supports the conviction of many observers that the crucial vote will be taken at the NEA's Representative Assembly about five weeks from now. While none of the AFT's executive council members--most of whom are leaders of local affiliates--opposed a merger, the state affiliates of the NEA are far from marching in lock step with their national leaders.

A Symbolic Defeat

Adding to the list of NEA affiliates that have considered the merger issue at their own statewide meetings are Washington State, Oregon and Rhode Island, all three of which passed resolutions this month in support of the idea. But the West Virginia Education Association voted against recommending a merger, and the Pennsylvania affiliate opted not to put the issue to a vote.

In a symbolic blow to the pro-merger forces, the home state of NEA President Bob Chase saw its affiliate reject a merger. At the Connecticut Education Association's annual meeting, delegates voted 2-1 by secret ballot against the merger. Even after hearing Mr. Chase make his pitch for a unified organization, a floor vote on a resolution to spurn the proposal passed 128-117.

Sharing the sentiments of colleagues in other states, many members in the Constitution State object to affiliating at the national level with the AFL-cio--a provision of the plan. The NEA is not part of the national coalition of labor organizations, while the AFT has a long history with the umbrella group. Moreover, the CEA represents only educators, while the state's AFT affiliate includes other government employees.

"Everyone who spoke on the issue prefaced by saying they were for the idea of unifying public school employees," CEA President Daria Plummer said last week. "But they had questions and concerns about some of the principles as they relate to us in Connecticut."

Kathleen Lyons, an NEA spokeswoman, said the Connecticut vote, though disappointing, was not a surprise. "There was that sentiment brewing in Connecticut." She expressed optimism that delegates will give the union the go-ahead.

Vol. 17, Issue 37, Page 7

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