New Mexico A.F.T., N.E.A. Affiliates Declare Truce

By Peter Schmidt — September 09, 1992 3 min read

The consolidation committee, consisting of equal numbers of members from each union, is expected to hold its first meeting this week.

The “jurisdictional truce and consolidation agreement,’' which took effect last month, is intended to end competition for membership between the New Mexico Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association of New Mexico.

While stopping short of a merger, the pact calls for each union to respect the other as dominant in certain areas of the state to forestall future battles over the right to represent public school employees.

Officials of the two state unions said the agreement emerged from a spirit of cooperation that developed as the two groups recently lobbied the state legislature to pass a new collective-bargaining law for public employees.

Without the pact, they said, the two unions probably would have hampered each other’s efforts to bargain collectively under the new state law.

“We were faced in the next year with conducting numerous costly representational elections in New Mexico if we had not reached an agreement,’' John Mitchell, the president of the New Mexico Federation of Teachers, said in an interview.

“Both unions know that excessive fighting between the two unions seeking representation rights for school employees would put the law in jeopardy,’' said Charles Bowyer, the president of the N.E.A. of New Mexico.

“We’ve struggled too long,’' he said, “to allow that to happen.’'

Bitter Fighting Ended

The NMFT has slightly more than 5,000 members; the NEA of New Mexico has about 6,000. Mr. Mitchell said the roughly equal size of the two state affiliates made it easier for them to cease competition and call for consolidation.

“One organization is not afraid of being swallowed by the other,’' he said.

Before the pact was signed, Mr. Mitchell said, the two unions had waged a bitter fight for representation in Albuquerque, and threatened to wage similar battles in Espanola, Las Cruces, and Santa Fe.

Neither state affiliate encountered significant resistance from its national leadership as it entered into the agreement, officials of both state unions said.

Mr. Bowyer last month described the NEA’s national leaders as being “very supportive and cooperative’’ of his affiliate’s efforts, which he characterized as “reflective of a national rethinking of the relationship between NEA and AFT’’

But Evelyn M. Temple, the assistant executive director for membership and affiliates for the NEA, last week stressed that the union’s New Mexico affiliate acted independently in entering into the agreement, which required no changes in national NEA policy or approval from the union’s national leadership.

Noting that the New Mexico agreement was fashioned after a similar pact devised by the unions’ affiliates in Florida, Ms. Temple said, “Whenever we have a new public-employee bargaining law in a state, and we can achieve some level of cooperation that lessens the warfare between unions, we are anxious to get into those sorts of relationships.’'

Future Merger Possible

The agreement between the NEA and AFT affiliates calls for each to cease competition for representation or collective-bargaining rights in any district where the other is recognized as the exclusive representative or “has the clear organizational advantage.’'

The agreement also calls for each state affiliate to refrain from publicly criticizing the other or making comments to the media that might undermine the other’s position.

As part of the agreement, the unions also established a consolidation committee to determine how the two state affiliates could go about establishing a single, consolidated union if allowed to by the national leadership of both organizations.

“We hope to establish one strong, unified organization that maintains the organizational and philosophical integrity of both unions,’' Mr. Mitchell said.

The consolidation committee, consisting of equal numbers of members from each union, is expected to hold its first meeting this week.

The consolidation agreement could still be nullified by delegates to council meetings of the two state affiliates scheduled for this fall.