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Published in Print: April 5, 2000, as Teachers' Unions To Merge In Two More States

Teachers' Unions To Merge In Two More States

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Members of the two teachers' unions in Montana were poised to celebrate late last week as their organizations cemented a long-planned merger.

The new union, in the works for two years, is the second state-level merger of affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

In 1998, state affiliates in Minnesota came together to form Education Minnesota. And next month, members of the Florida affiliates will hold a founding convention to launch a 100,000-member unified organization.

"When we stand before the legislature, the governor, the board of regents, and the board of public education, we'll be one, we'll speak with one voice," said Eric Feaver, who was running unopposed for president of the Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers. Mr. Feaver had previously served as the head of the 10,000-member NEA affiliate.

The association is combining forces with the 5,500-member federation affiliate, whose president, Jim McGarvey, had no challenger for vice president of the new organization.

Priority Is Salaries

The unified Montana organization will represent education employees in prekindergarten through grade 12, higher education, health care, and state government.

The overriding goal of the new organization, as for its predecessors, will be higher salaries for its members, Mr. Feaver said. The average teacher in Montana earns $31,000 a year, a sum he called "just deplorable." Starting salaries average between $18,000 and $20,000 a year.

Gay Ann Masolo, a Republican and a retired teacher who chairs the House education and cultural-resources committee, said the merger of the teachers' unions wasn't a topic of much interest among lawmakers because it had been planned for so long.

"I imagine it's definitely to their benefit," she said of the merger. "And they do deserve higher salaries. There's no way we can keep them in the field with the salaries we're starting them at."

National Guidelines

Delegates to both unions' state conventions adopted a constitution for the fused Montana organization two years ago, with the aim of unifying by September of this year.

Late last week, they were scheduled to assemble at the first Representative Assembly of the MEA-MFT to vote for new officers, approve a budget and dues structure, and sign off on a mission statement and programs.

Bob Chase, the president of the NEA and a strong supporter of merger at the national level, was scheduled to address the gathering and praise the marriage as an example of the "new unionism" he has championed.

Although the official debut of the new organization is Sept. 1, the Montana merger was complicated somewhat by the failure of the national teachers' unions to approve one of their own.

In 1998, delegates to the NEA's Representative Assembly shot down a set of guidelines for unity with the AFT. The rejection didn't sway Montana educators and the public employees represented by the federation affiliate. But both groups had to comply with guidelines from their national offices on state-level mergers.

Under those rules, the unified organization will pay national dues in proportion to the number of members at the time they come together. In this case, for example, the AFT will get national dues from one-third of the 15,500 members of the combined organization.

When Education Minnesota forged ahead with its merger, no such clear rules for state organizations were in place, and the unified organization ran afoul of NEA requirements that every member pay dues to the national organization.

Education Minnesota now owes the NEA about $2.3 million—the amount of dues that the 20,000 members who belong to the AFT would pay. The NEA "loaned" that money to the state organization, which last year asked delegates to the Representative Assembly to forgive the loan. ("Delegates Deny Dues Relief to Merged Minn. Union," July 14, 1999.)

That request was narrowly rejected. Technically, Education Minnesota still owes the national organization money, but it has not been making payments.

"We're waiting to see what solution is proposed to us, and then we'll react to that," said Doug Dooher, a spokesman for Education Minnesota. "Right now, there has been nothing."

Florida Ahead

In Florida, the 63,000-member Florida Teaching Profession-NEA and the 40,000-member Florida Education Association/United will have their founding convention May 13. Delegates will vote at that time for officers and approve remaining rules and procedures for the organization, which has yet to be named.

Maureen Dinnen, the president of Florida's NEA affiliate, is running unopposed for president of the united organization, while Andy Ford, the first vice president of the Florida Education Association/United, is running for vice president

Pat Tornillo, the president of United Teachers of Dade in Miami-Dade County, will serve as a consultant, but won't hold an office in the state organization.

Vol. 19, Issue 30, Page 3

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