N.E.A. Delegates Water Down Plan To ‘Streamline’ Organization

By Ann Bradley — August 05, 1992 7 min read

Delegates to the National Education Association’s 130th Representative Assembly have given a mixed reception to a plan to restructure the organization.

Although the plan to “streamline’’ the N.E.A. had the backing of the union’s board of directors, delegates meeting here last month deleted or modified several important recommendations.

The assembly rejected a plan to revise the union’s dues structure and modified a proposal to enable the national organization to assume control of troubled state affiliates.

Keith B. Geiger, the union’s president, conceded in an interview that the plan had been “watered down’’ by the 8,660 delegates.

But, he noted, “Very few things of significance in this organization pass the first time around.’'

The committee that prepared the report had shared its initial recommendations with the Representative Assembly last year. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991.)

Under the N.E.A.'s complex rule-making procedures, even the streamlining proposals that were approved last month will not now take effect. Most of the provisions will require amendments to the N.E.A.'s constitution, rules, or bylaws, which are scheduled for debate next year.

In other action, the assembly voted to allow N.E.A. officials to continue studying the idea of merging with the rival American Federation of Teachers.

Dues Change Debated

One of the most controversial recommendations in the report was to change the way in which members’ dues to the national union are assessed. Currently, teachers, professors, counselors, and other instructional staff pay full dues, while educational-support personnel pay half dues.

The committee recommended that the N.E.A. adopt a “tiered’’ dues structure, in which members’ dues would be set according to their base salaries.

Under the proposal, members with annual salaries of $21,000 or more would have paid full dues, those earning between $10,000 and $21,000 would have paid 60 percent of the full dues amount, and members making less than $10,000 would have paid 30 percent of full dues.

In making the recommendation, the committee maintained that the arrangement would be fairer than basing dues on job category, since teachers’ salaries vary widely and some educational-support personnel earn more than teachers.

Delegates expressed a number of concerns with the proposal, however. Some suggested that changing the national dues would trigger similar changes at the state level, potentially creating administrative and financial hardships.

Critics also argued that a tiered dues structure would hurt recruitment of support personnel, since in some cases it would raise the dues of such employees.

“E.S.P.'s are not as well paid,’' said Connie Wilczopolski, a New Jersey bus driver who sponsored an amendment to delete the dues change from the report. “Yet we are being asked to bear a huge financial burden.’'

Annie Barclay, the president of the Clark County (Nev.) Education Support Employees Association and a member of the streamlining committee, countered that the present dues system was unfair.

The proposed change “blurs the distinction between us,’' Ms. Barclay argued.

Dues Issue Not Dead

The delegates voted to strike the dues proposal from the report and keep the current structure in place.

Mr. Geiger said, however, that the vote does not mean that the dues issue is dead.

The appropriate amendments could be introduced next year to accomplish the dues change, despite delegates’ reluctance this year to take that step. The voting on changes then will be by secret ballot, which could produce a different outcome, officials noted.

“Some time in the next 10 years,’' Mr. Geiger predicted, “we will change the dues of the organization.’'

The union president noted that eight constitutional amendments already have been submitted for consideration next year, some of which cover recommendations in the streamlining report that were rejected.

The delegates voted against a recommendation, for example, to ensure representation on the executive committee for representatives of educational-support personnel and university faculty.

The assembly also rejected a proposal, contained in recommendations on streamlining the association’s numerous committees, to create a “core-membership committee’’ made up of teachers, higher-education faculty members, and support personnel. Instead, delegates voted to give students and retirees a voice on the committee as well.

‘Trusteeships’ Approved

While the dues issue was close to members’ hearts--and pocketbooks--the question of whether to create a “trusteeship’’ arrangement for troubled state affiliates generated the most controversy of all the report’s recommendations.

Under the proposed process, the national organization would “assume jurisdiction over the operations of a state association for a limited period of time,’' the report says.

The N.E.A. currently has no such procedure, and delegates noted that adopting one would be a significant step for the association.

It was the conditions under which the national organization would be able to intervene, however, that provoked debate.

The report recommended three scenarios: to correct corruption or financial malpractice, to restore democratic procedures, or to achieve and maintain complicance with N.E.A.'s standards for affiliation.

Trusteeships would only be applicable at the state level, officials said, and would have no bearing on how individual locals operated.

While delegates appeared to be comfortable with establishing a trusteeship procedure to smooth affiliates’ financial or procedural problems, many balked at allowing such intervention for failure to comply with the union’s standards for affiliation.

Union leaders said the provision was too broad, possibly leaving the N.E.A. with too much latitude to control state affiliates.

John Wilson, a delegate from North Carolina, offered an amendment to delete that condition for trusteeship.

Establishing trusteeship represents “a major shift in the balance of power away from the state affiliates,’' he argued, that “should not be subject to the political winds of change.’'

Mr. Wilson’s amendment passed on a roll-call vote.

After the vote, Mr. Geiger described delegates’ negative reaction to establishing a trusteeship for state affiliates that failed to meet the union’s standards of affiliation as “psychological.’'

Delegates were concerned that the union could change its standards to give it a basis for taking over an affiliate, he explained.

Removing that provision, Mr. Geiger added, “brought calmness into the delegations.’'

Although it generated relatively little formal debate, the most emotional issue for many delegates during the four-day meeting was the idea of merging with the A.F.T.

The delegates voted to endorse the union’s continued study of the question of merger, and affiliation with the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

The strongest protests came from the New York State and New Jersey delegations. The New York delegates waved signs with pictures of Albert Shanker, the A.F.T. president, whose leadership they have been sharply critical of for years. The New Jersey delegates wore white, plastic hardhats during the meeting to symbolize their opposition to affiliation with the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

Constance J. Eno, the president of the 33,000-member National Education Association of New York, noted that her organization, which had been merged with the A.F.T. at the state level in the 1970’s, had been very unhappy with the arrangement.

Ms. Eno, who complained that she was not allowed to speak against merger when the issue came before the delegates, later succeeded in adding an amendment to prohibit N.E.A. staff members or officers from making favorable statements about a merger to the press.

“At the rate the press has announced merger in the last two days,’' she complained, “in our state there won’t be any N.E.A. affiliates for you to worry about.’'

Betty Kraemer, the president of the New Jersey Education Association, said her delegates believe that the N.E.A. has little to gain from affiliating either with the rival union or with its parent labor organization.

“We already work together on many issues,’' she said.

The New Jersey delegates also were opposed to allowing the N.E.A. to establish a trusteeship for state affiliates that failed to meet the “standards of affiliation’’ because of the merger issue, she added.

If the N.E.A. decides to merge with the A.F.T. and affiliate with the A.F.L.-C.I.O., she warned, the union could take over state organizations that refused to go along.

By voting to delete that condition for trusteeship, Ms. Kraemer said, the New Jersey delegates felt they were “preserving their options.’'

Some observers had predicted that some Southern affiliates would object to studying the question of merger.

But while the Georgia Association of Educators, for example, did not object to continued study, Debbie Simonds, the organization’s president, said her delegation’s silence should not be seen as support for merger. “They’re just being nice,’' she said. “If it comes to an out-and-out vote, Georgia will be opposed to it.’'

A version of this article appeared in the August 05, 1992 edition of Education Week as N.E.A. Delegates Water Down Plan To ‘Streamline’ Organization