Texas Teachers’ Unions Free To Raid Other’s Members
The Texas state affiliates of the two national teachers’ unions have abandoned an agreement designed to keep them from wooing each others’ locals or members.
The change signals the latest breakdown in efforts to merge the two statewide unions, which compete with independent teachers’ associations for members in a state where collective bargaining by public employees is outlawed.
"We haven’t had merger talks in a long time," said Gayle Fallon, the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the Texas Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. "When you kill the ‘no raid’ agreement, you kill the basis of merger."
Leaders of the TFT and its National Education Association counterpart, the Texas State Teachers Association, dispute that conclusion, but they concede that the talks have made little progress in about two years. Both Ms. Fallon’s Houston union and its sister AFT affiliate in Dallas, the Alliance of Dallas Educators, pulled out of merger talks that long ago and subsequently didn’t worry about the strictures of the no-raid pact, their leaders said.
Then, in April, the 65,000-member Texas State Teachers Association officially dumped the compact, which had technically expired last summer, at its annual convention. The proposal to do so came from Dallas delegates.
"I guess [the TSTA delegates] just wanted to protest that they don't want a merger," said Donna New Hascke, the president of the statewide union. The TSTA has been losing members for years in the face of competition from independent associations and the TFT. Ms. Haschke supports a merger of the two statewide groups.
Ms. Haschke and her counterpart at the 50,000-member TFT, John Cole, both said that hopes for a merger are not dead, despite the TSTA vote. "The resolution had nothing to say about the merger," Mr. Cole maintained. "They left in place a mandate to pursue merger discussions."
Should the Texas unions merge, the state would become the fourth with a joint NEA-AFT group. The others are Florida, Minnesota, and Montana, aside from merged locals at the district level such as in Los Angeles and five in Texas.
The national unions have made a commitment to working toward merger, but an actual move to do so was defeated by delegates to the NEA’s convention in 1998.
No one expects the demise of the Texas pact to change the way Texas locals typically go about recruiting, in part because no-raid agreements can be carefully policed at the local level only in school districts where one union has the exclusive right to represent teachers during collective bargaining. In those instances, such a pact keeps a state or local union from seeking a vote of members to challenge that right.
Here are some of the teachers' organizations active in Texas:
|National Education Association|
|American Federation of Teachers|
|SOURCE: Education Week|
But in Texas, where state law prohibits collective bargaining and where teachers may be choosing among unions and associations, a no-raid accord at the local level mainly comes down to refraining from negatively characterizing the other entity or intentionally going after its members.
Officials of both statewide unions said that while the agreement between them committed state leaders to discouraging such activities, in reality it was hard to know when a line had been crossed.
"In most school districts, and certainly the large ones, there are members of both unions in every building and every [teachers’] lounge, so you can’t just say, ‘We will not go into your area, and you won’t go into ours,’" said the TFT’s Mr. Cole.
Ms. Fallon of the Houston Federation of Teachers, which has 6,900 members and competes against the independent Congress of Houston Teachers, said her group’s recruitment efforts have never changed, despite limited initial participation in the merger talks in 2002.
"I guess [the TSTA delegates] just wanted to protest that they don’t want a merger," said Donna New Haschke, the president of the statewide union. The TSTA has been losing members for years in the face of competition from the independent associations and the TFT. Ms. Haschke supports a merger of the two statewide groups.
"If we have 300 members of the TSTA, we’re not going to waste time putting a disclaimer [of interest in their members] on our literature; that might be confusing," she said.
Aimee Bolender, the president of the Alliance of Dallas Educators, said she wasn’t sure if her union’s literature ever carried a disclaimer, but that it was never the practice to characterize its NEA counterpart negatively or go after its members.
With the demise of the pact, Mr. Cole acknowledged that the groups would compete—in what he hoped would be a civil way.
Civil or not, a spokesman for the Texas Association of Professional Educators, the independent group that has the lion’s share of Texas teachers, with about 100,000 members, welcomed any renewed competition between the unions.
"Certainly if they are going after each other," said Larry D. Comer, "they have less time and energy to go after us."
Vol. 23, Issue 41, Page 5