Delegates Deny Dues Relief to Merged Minn. Union
Education Minnesota broke the rules, and now it will have to pay.
By just 40 votes, out of more than 8,000 cast, delegates to the National Education Association's Representative Assembly here last week turned down a request from the nation's only merged state teachers' union affiliate for relief from paying full dues for all of its members for the past fiscal year.
The issue arose because the merger of Minnesota's NEA and American Federation of Teachers affiliates came before the NEA had time to draft guidelines for state-level mergers.
Delegates to last year's NEA convention soundly rejected national unity with the AFT, but directed their union to come up with a way to allow state affiliates to merge.
The association's board of directors produced such guidelines this past spring, and last week nearly 80 percent of the delegates here approved related bylaw changes that will govern state unification.
The proposed dues arrangement, Education Minnesota argued in making its request, would have allowed the merged affiliate to operate under the same conditions that will apply to any future state mergers.
Under the new bylaws, merged state affiliates will pay dues to the national organization in proportion to the number of members who belonged to the NEA.
But because Education Minnesota forged ahead with the merger last fall, it was required to pay full national dues for all of its members. The union has about 68,000 members, two-thirds of whom belonged to the NEA.
Because members only pay one set of national dues, Education Minnesota was short about $2.3 million--the amount of national dues its approximately 22,000 AFT members would have paid.
As part of the arrangements made last fall for recognizing Education Minnesota, the NEA board of directors agreed to "loan" the union the money it owed for its extra members. ("Merged Unions in Minnesota Get Blessing of National Organizations," Oct. 21, 1998.)
The arrangement was only to be for 1998-99, to tide the new union over until the NEA could put in place guidelines for handling state-level mergers.
From the start, NEA officials hoped that delegates to the Representative Assembly would waive any requirement to repay the money.
But during a two-hour debate July 6, the last day of the convention, delegates balked at approving a policy that would have permitted the board of directors to waive the repayment.
The debate was split between speakers from Minnesota--joined by delegates from Florida and Montana, where the unions have voted to merge--and those from anti-merger states such as Illinois, Louisiana, and Michigan.
The final roll-call vote was 4,131 votes against and 4,091 in favor of forgiving the loan.
Judy Schaubach, a co-president of Education Minnesota, said she thought delegates were confused by the complex issue and unfamiliar with the ramifications of state-level mergers.
Seeking the waiver "was the right thing to do," she said. "It was complicated enough and difficult enough to explain, that the fact [the vote] was as close as it was is probably a positive sign."
The exact financial implications for the state union aren't yet clear, she said. Education Minnesota has promised not to raise members' dues as a result of the merger, and has already guaranteed staff jobs.
As an affiliate of the NEA, Education Minnesota is entitled to receive money from the national office to pay for staff members to help locals negotiate contracts. It also is entitled to legal services.
During the past school year, Ms. Schaubach said, Education Minnesota didn't claim those services for its expanded membership. That further complicates calculations of what the state affiliate owes the national office, but the amount likely would be reduced.
Bob Chase, the NEA president, said he was disappointed at the outcome. "I had anticipated that it would be close, but not this close," he said. "There was some feeling that Minnesota had jumped the gun and should be held responsible for what they had done."
Vol. 18, Issue 42, Page 12