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Published in Print: October 27, 1999, as Professional Membership Group Affiliates With AFT

Professional Membership Group Affiliates With AFT

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The American Federation of Teachers is experimenting with a new form of labor organizing by granting affiliation to a professional membership organization that mainly represents psychologists in private practice.

The nation's second-largest teachers' union and the New York State Psychological Association agreed this month that the affiliation would begin in January. Under the agreement, the 3,200 members of the psychologists' group will become "associate members" of the AFT. They will not be able to vote in union elections, but they can take advantage of the union's health insurance and legal services.

The teachers' union also will share its organizing expertise with its new associate, which is seeking to sign up the estimated 7,000 psychologists in the state who are not now members. For its part, the AFT will receive $46,000 for the first year of affiliation, far less than what would be paid for full-fledged members.

Moreover, the psychologists' group can tap the formidable political clout of the AFT and its 430,000-member state affiliate, New York State United Teachers. Such leverage is becoming increasingly important as many psychologists feel besieged by restrictions of health-maintenance organizations, said Diane Brenner, the group's chief executive officer.

The AFT, for instance, supports "patients' bill of rights" legislation aimed at giving doctors and patients more power to direct medical care. "My members have felt very disempowered by the whole managed-care arena," Ms. Brenner said last week.

Similar groups in other states are closely watching the arrangement, she added.

A New Model

The affiliation also comes as the AFT has stepped up its organizing efforts. In the coming weeks, teachers in Puerto Rico and graduate students in Oregon and Philadelphia will vote on whether to join the organization, which surpassed 1 million members for the first time last year.

Though most members of the psychologists' group work independently, some who work in schools have long been members of the teachers' union. Teachers who have joined the AFT, even though they don't have a local bargaining unit to belong to, have also been granted associate status.

But the agreement with the psychologists' association marks the first time that a national teachers' union has affiliated with an existing membership organization made up primarily of people who are in business for themselves. Officials of the AFT said the relationship represented a new model that could be pivotal to organized labor as more professionals and entrepreneurial workers seek the benefits unions offer.

"These are mostly people who work for themselves, and yet they need representation," AFT President Sandra Feldman said last week. "And we are a knowledge workers' union and a professional union."

Vol. 19, Issue 9, Page 10

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