School & District Management

NEA Gives Affiliates Option of Joining Labor Federation

By Vaishali Honawar — February 27, 2006 | Corrected: February 22, 2019 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Corrected: This story should have said Andrew J. Rotherham is a co-director of the think tank Education Sector.

The National Education Association, the nation’s largest labor union, will allow its local affiliates to join the AFL-CIO, which already represents the NEA’s rival union, the American Federation of Teachers.

NEA President Reg Weaver, speaking at the winter meeting of the AFL-CIO in San Diego Feb. 27, just minutes after signing the agreement, said he was “exhilarated” to make the announcement.

“The two groups working together will strengthen the community [at large] and the organization and the quality of public education,” Mr. Weaver said. Some member locals had already asked to join the behemoth labor organization, he added, paving the way for the agreement.

John J. Sweeney, the president of the AFL-CIO, called the pact the “most important step forward for the labor movement since the AFL-CIO merger in 1955.” In an interview, Mr. Weaver sought to underscore that the action does not represent a merger at the national level, and dismissed rumors of a backdoor attempt by the 2.8 million-member NEA to join with the 1.3 million-member AFT.

“This is not about the AFT. This is about the NEA and the AFL-CIO. This enables both sides to work together with meeting the needs of working families,” Mr. Weaver said.

He also said there was no attempt to bypass the 10,000-member Representative Assembly of the NEA, which rejected a marriage between the AFT and the NEA in 1998, even though leaders of both groups backed the merger. Affiliation with the AFL-CIO was one of the major reasons why NEA delegates voted it down. “We felt this was a decision that was for the board of directors to make, … and the board represents all affiliates,” Mr. Weaver said.

The NEA president declined to say how many locals would join the AFL-CIO, saying it was too early to estimate.

The AFT, meanwhile, welcomed the NEA announcement, saying the arrangement would help teachers’ unions become more powerful advocates for quality education.

“This is a historic occasion,” said AFT President Edward J. McElroy, who was also present at the San Diego press conference. “We are proud of the relationship we have with the NEA. … This gives us a greater opportunity at the grassroots, where members can work on issues that confront each of us everyday.”

The NEA Representative Assembly, after voting down the merger in 1998, opened the way for locals to merge with the AFT. At present, teachers in several cities and in three states—Minnesota, Montana, and Florida—are members of combined NEA/AFT unions. Teachers in New York state are also expected to merge into a single union in the near future.

Shoring Up

Despite the absence of any direct reference in the agreement to a merger between the AFT and the NEA, union watchers say the agreement could set the stage for one.

Mike Antonucci, a Sacramento-based teacher-union watchdog who runs an education blog, said it is estimated that up to 1 million NEA members could join the 9 million-member AFL-CIO as a result of the agreement.

“That is huge—it puts roughly a third of NEA’s members in the AFL-CIO, and after this, if NEA wanted to try a merger attempt with the AFT, they would be able to pull it off,” Mr. Antonucci predicted.

“There has been a long history of a lot of foreplay between the AFT and the NEA in terms of a merger. And while this is not a merger, it does bring them closer together,” said Andrew J. Rotherham, co-director of the think tank Education Sector and a co-author of the new book Collective Bargaining in Education: Negotiating Change in Today’s Schools.

The move could also help shore up the AFL-CIO, which lost nearly 5 million members after dissenting affiliates representing nearly a third of the union’s membership left last year to set up a new labor union. Asked why the NEA would choose to collaborate with the AFL-CIO during the labor federation’s stormiest time in history, Mr. Weaver simply said his organization’s leaders saw it as an opportunity to align themselves with working families.

“We are joining forces through a structured opportunity for our locals to participate,” he said. “We hope this will provide many young people with the opportunity to have great public schools.”

Related Tags:


Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion What It Takes to Reinvent High School
How can district leaders launch innovative and successful schools?
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Why Principals Need to Talk About the Israel-Hamas War With Our Teachers
What can we do when a difficult topic is brought up by students in classrooms? First, don’t leave teachers to handle it in isolation.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
5 min read
Stylized photo illustration of a teacher feeling pressured as she is questioned by her students.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management Sometimes Principals Need to Make Big Changes. Here’s How to Get Them to Stick
School leaders need their community to take a leap of faith with them. But how do they build trust and conviction?
8 min read
Image of a leader reflecting on past and future.
akindo/DigitalVision Vectors
School & District Management A New Study Details Gender and Racial Disparities in the Superintendent's Office
Women and people of color are less likely than their white male counterparts to be appointed superintendent directly from a principal post.
6 min read
A conceptual image of a female being paid less than a male.
hyejin kang/iStock/Getty