Merged Unions in Minnesota Get Blessing of National Organizations
Education Minnesota, the merged state teachers' union formed Sept. 1, is now officially affiliated with both national unions.
Members of the National Education Association's board of directors voted 141-25 this month to approve guidelines allowing the new union to affiliate with the nea.
Following that action, the American Federation of Teachers' 37-member executive council last week unanimously approved a charter granting Education Minnesota affiliate status.
The merger of the 42,000-member Minnesota Education Association and the 20,000-member Minnesota Federation of Teachers had been in the works for more than two years. State union leaders had hoped that NEA members would approve a set of principles last summer for a national merger that would smooth the way for the planned Minnesota unification. ("Minn. Unions Eagerly Await Merger Voting," April 29, 1998.)
But the national delegates balked at the proposed "principles of unity" hammered out by nea and aft leaders. Instead, the delegates approved a policy calling on the NEA board to draft guidelines to allow state-level mergers. No state mergers were to take place until such rules were in place.
For political and financial reasons, however, the Minnesota merger proceeded on schedule and without national guidelines, leaving Education Minnesota technically unaffiliated with the NEA. Because it has less stringent rules, the AFT regarded the union as an affiliate even before the national officers signed off on the deal.
Sandra Peterson, one of the two co-presidents of Education Minnesota, said the state officers forged ahead because the fiscal year was starting, the union would have had to reopen contract negotiations with its staff, and leaders wanted to make a joint political endorsement in Minnesota's gubernatorial election next month.
"We were determined and pretty passionate about it," she said. "Merger itself is only a strategy. The goal here is to have all of us united to do what we need to do for public education."
Education Minnesota is backing Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey III, a Democrat who is the state attorney general, over St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, a Republican.
The candidates are vying to succeed Gov. Arne Carlson, a Republican who earned the enmity of the teachers' unions for his initial support of school vouchers, and later for tax credits and deductions that Minnesotans could use to help pay for private school tuition.
nea bylaws require that all members of a state affiliate belong to the national organization and pay full national dues--$125 this year.
Members of Education Minnesota are active members of both national unions, but each member pays only one set of national dues. That leaves the state union short of money to pay the NEA for the 22,000 members whose dues go to the AFT, or about $2 million to $2.5 million for 1998-99.
To make up for the shortfall, the NEA board of directors approved a long-term-loan arrangement to permit Education Minnesota to pay those dues over 10 years, with interest. The written loan agreement will be subject to approval by the NEA executive committee.
Members of the NEA board objected to a suggestion from the executive committee that delegates be asked next summer to forgive all or part of the loan.
Instead, any such request would have to come from Education Minnesota itself, rather than the executive committee, said Bob Chase, the president of the NEA.
The guidelines approved for Education Minnesota cover only this year. In the meantime, NEA board members will begin discussions in December on policies to guide future state mergers. The Minnesota affiliate would have to abide by those arrangements.
Guidelines for future mergers would have to be approved in February in order to be put before delegates to the NEA national convention next summer, Mr. Chase said.
The question of dues is likely to be a sticking point. The NEA has an extensive legal-services program and provides money to its affiliates to pay for UniServ staff members, who provide bargaining expertise and other services to local affiliates.
"It raises the question of who provides what services when you have two national organizations rather than a single one," Mr. Chase said. "How to do this financially so that everybody pays their fair share and at the same time meets their obligation--those are not easy questions to answer. But I'm sure that we'll come up with a response that is acceptable to the majority."
Vol. 18, Issue 8, Page 10