Teachers' Unions In San Francisco Decide To Merge

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San Francisco's teachers' unions last week ended 20 years of acrimonious relations by signing a merger agreement said to be the first of its kind in the nation.

The uniting of local affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association will create only the second merged local in the country, to be called the United Educators of San Francisco.

Union officials said last week, however, that San Francisco's "unity agreement" will integrate its two locals more fully than the 1969 merger that created the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the nation's first combined local.

If ratified by San Francisco teachers in an election next month, the agreement will give members of the United Educators of San Francisco membership in both unions' state and national organizations. Leadership posts in the uesf will be shared between the two locals until an election is held in 1991.

"This is going to unite teachers in a way we've never been before, so we can speak with a single voice in addressing the problems common to all teachers," said Joan-Marie Shelley, president of the San Francisco-American Federation of Teachers, one of the locals to be merged.

Judy Dellamonica, president of the other local, the nea affiliate San Francisco Classroom Teachers Association, called the signing of the agreement "an historic event."

"It's probably significant," she said, "that it's taking place in the War Memorial Building."

The two locals, neither of which has been able to gain a substantial hold on the city's 4,000 teachers, had been discussing merger on and off for several years. Roughly one-third of San Francisco's teachers belong to each union and one-third are unaffiliated.

The divided ranks created a volatile situation in which the union locals constantly challenged one another for the right to represent the city's teachers. Since 1977, there have been five "decertification" elections in San Francisco, three of which were won by the sfcta

The final push for unity began after an election last May in which the sf-aft won back the right to represent the city's teachers.

The union campaigned on a pledge of working toward merger, which leaders of both organizations say is overwhelmingly favored by the city's teachers.

Dual Membership

Because of the dual affiliation that will come with membership in the merged organization, both national unions and their state affiliates will receive a share of members' dues. Members will be allowed, under a provision of the agreement, to "opt out" of membership in either organization, but doing so will not change their dues, union officials said.

San Francisco's first-of-its-kind, dual-membership arrangement has been approved by the unions' state and national organizations.

In Los Angeles, members of the merged utla belong to either the National Education Association or the American Federation of Teachers and their respective state organizations, but cannot belong to both without paying extra dues.

San Francisco's "opt out" provision was devised to eliminate conflict with n.e.a. policy, which states that affiliates will not enter into mergers requiring affiliation with the afl-cio or any other labor organization, union officials said.

A transitional governance structure will be set up, under which Ms. Shelley will serve as president of the new local and Ms. Dellamonica will serve as executive vice president. Seats on the transitional board of directors and delegate assembly will be apportioned among members now serving similar positions in the two unions.

Elections for positions in the new organization will be held before May 1, 1991.

Not Likely Elsewhere

Union officials at the local, state, and national level said last week that the agreement reached in San Francisco grew out of unique circumstances and did not signal an increased interest in mergers on the part of either national union.

"I don't want to give a lot of other people hope that this can work in their area," said Ed Foglia, president of the California Teachers Association, the nea's state affiliate. "This took a lot of history.''

The bottom line, Mr. Foglia said, is that "no bargaining agent in San Francisco can make it really work when you have over two-thirds of the teachers really not paying into the program."

The cta has discussed merging with the much smaller California Federation of Teachers, but Mr. Foglia said last week that the unions have not communicated on the subject for a year. The c.t.a. enjoys a nine-to-one membership advantage and had proposed absorbing the c.f.t., Mr. Foglia said, which the other union rejected.

Over the years, the two unions have attempted to merge at the state level in New York, Florida, and Hawaii, and at the local level in Flint, Mich. The arrangements in each case amounted to a takeover or absorption of one union by the other, said John Hein, n.e.a.'s assistant executive director for affiliate services.

"I don't think you'll see anything like [San Francisco] anywhere else," Mr. Hein said. "Los Angeles is keyed to the circumstances in L.A. at the time of their merger. Both are one-of-a-kind situations."

Strength In Numbers

The new United Educators of San Francisco, which will also include paraprofessionals now represented by the sf-aft, will be a much stronger bargaining agent that can attempt to restructure the educational system, said Miles Myers, president of the c.f.t.

Previously, the constant threat of another decertification election, he said, made the organizations "conventional" and prompted them to focus their attention on bread-and-butter issues.

"It's very hard to take risks if every time you try a new idea that has potential failure in it, somebody puts out a flier saying you made a mistake," Mr. Myers said.

As the current bargaining agent, the sf-aft already has made strides toward securing a greater voice in decisionmaking for teachers. Under a new three-year contract ratified Oct. 5, "faculty councils" will be set up at each school to discuss curriculum, budget, staffing, and scheduling, Ms. Shelley said. Two new district-level committees will review, approve, and help implement suggested changes.

In addition, the city's teachers will receive 6 percent salary increases this year, have the full cost of their fringe benefits paid by the district, and have a voice in deciding how to allocate $4 million for hiring new teachers to relieve overcrowded classrooms.

The new local will have its hands full implementing the provisions of the contract and working out the details of the new governance structure, Ms. Shelley said.

"We're absolutely breaking new ground here," she added, "and it's exciting, challenging, and a little scary."

Vol. 09, Issue 07

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