N.E.A. To Examine Barrier to Alliance With A.F.T.

By Karen Diegmueller — January 08, 1992 4 min read

WASHINGTON--The National Education Association has made another step toward allying itself more closely with its chief rival, the American Federation of Teachers, as well as with other education associations and the labor movement as a whole.

Meeting here last month, the N.E.A.'S board of directors authorized the formation of a nine-member committee charged with making recommendations about a 1976 policy prohibiting the union from merging with an organization affiliated with the A.F.L.-C.I.O., to which the A.F.T. belongs.

Should the committee recommend that the prohibition be dropped and the board of directors and the union’s Representative Assembly adopt the recommendation, one of the major barriers to an N.E.A.-A.F.T. merger would be removed.

“At one end, we could come back and reaffirm the policy we now have,” said Keith B. Geiger, the president of the N.E.A., who will chair the committee. ‘At the other end, we might say it’s time to look at [affiliating with] the A.F.T. and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. There is a lot of stuff in between that we could do.”

State, Local Mergers Under Way

The possibility of merger between the two unions surfaced a year and a half ago, when Albert Shanker, the president of the A.F.T., responded positively to a reporter’s question at his union’s convention in Boston. Days later, at his union’s convention in Kansas City, Mr. Geiger did not rule out the idea, as his predecessors had done. (See Education Week, Aug. 1, 1990.)

Since then, the national N.E.A. has broached the subject with state and local leaders, and Wisconsin and some local affiliates have taken steps to merge. (See Education Week, May 1, 1991 .)

Mr. Geiger said that if the committee recommended reaffirming the policy against mergers with members of the labor confederation, and the governing bodies agreed, the Wisconsin and local-affiliate arrangements would be scrapped.

Leaders of some of those affiliates participated in a daylong meeting called by the board to discuss the issues surrounding a relationship with other organizations. Also present were all the state presidents and many of the executive directors.

“We talked about all the ramifications without becoming excited and upset with each other,” Mr. Geiger said. “The overall feeling when we got finished was that this organization should not be afraid to look at its own policies to see whether or not they are still relevant.”

“I’m glad they’re reconsidering it,” Mr. Shanker said. “I hope it will result in some modification.”

The A.F.T., he said, did not have to take a similar action because it has no comparable rules.

A Greater Voice

Also at last month’s board meeting, the N.E.A.'s organizational streamlining committee released its final report, which calls for giving a greater voice to educational-support personnel and members from the union’s higher-education constituency.

Most of the committee’s recommendations are similar to the ones it made in its interim report last summer. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991 .)

Harvey Press, the president of N.E.A.-Rhode Island and a committee member, described the differences as minor midcourse corrections based on feedback from individuals and constituency groups.

The most significant change appears to have been the addition of support-personnel and higher-education members to the executive committee if they are not elected under normal procedures. As a result, the board could range in size from 9 to 11 members. In the interim report, the committee had leaned to guaranteed, rather than additional, spots.

The proposed dues structure also was changed somewhat in the final report. All members earning $22,000 or more would pay full dues regardless of their job category, under the new policy, while those earning less than $22,000 would pay 60 percent.

Support personnel previously paid 50 percent full dues. As Jane Stern, the president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, noted, however, there were anomalies that had resulted in support personnel in her state earning as much as $54,000--to a teacher’s $17,000--yet paying half the dues paid by the teacher.

“The entire thrust of the organization-streamlining effort was to correct some of the unfairness as we developed [new constituencies] over the years,” Ms. Stern said.

Financial Monitoring Urged

Wholly new to the report are recommendations to eliminate the requirement that 75 percent of committee members be classroom teachers, and to establish a formal procedure for the national body to monitor state- and local-affiliate finances and assert control for a limited time in the event of major problems.

“The intent is not to take over, but [to let] everybody know how the game is going to be played,” Mr. Press said, adding that a trusteeship arrangement would be sought only as a last resort.

Despite the troubled economy, he said, no state or local affiliates were in such a situation.

The streamlining committee’s report requires adoption by the board of directors. Parts of it also will have to be approved by the representative assembly, which will not be able to consider it until July 1993 at the earliest.

A version of this article appeared in the January 08, 1992 edition of Education Week as N.E.A. To Examine Barrier to Alliance With A.F.T.