Teaching Profession

A Union of the Unions. Not.

By Vaishali Honawar — January 09, 2009 1 min read

A merger between the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers?

Now that’s one we haven’t heard in almost a decade, since efforts to bring the two teachers’ unions under a single umbrella were quashed by the NEA’s Representative Assembly.

But this week, after the presidents of 12 labor unions issued a joint call for unification when President-elect Barack Obama’s transition office said that it would prefer dealing with a united labor movement, there’s been some speculation over whether this might also translate into a teachers’ union merger.

The New York Times had this quote from Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, speaking about the labor-unification call after Tuesday’s meeting: “It was clear that many of us felt that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and we really want to do things to help American workers get their rightful place in society.”

But does this mean she’s also ready to rush into blissful union with the NEA? We’d guess not.

The differences between the two national teachers’ unions may be greater at this point in time than they’ve ever before been.

Dana Goldstein in Tapped, the American Prospect blog, says a merger is “highly unlikely” because of the differences between the two, including on education policy. Read more about this here.

Further, over the past decade, since unification attempts crashed, the NEA and the AFT have only grown further from each other. And there has been no visible effort by the two to work together on just about any issue of common interest.

There are other strong differences that put a spike in the merger back then and would doubtlessly hinder one now: The AFT is in essence a labor union. It is a proud member of the AFL-CIO and includes many non-teacher members, including dentists, health-care workers, and other denizens of the labor workforce.

Contrast this with the NEA which believes in preserving its purity as a teachers’ union and which shuns non-teacher membership whenever possible. This past summer, members soundly rejected an attempt by the union’s leadership to allow private-school teachers to become members of the NEA.

We’d never say never, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to guess that, at this time, a desire to please Obama—especially before he’s had a chance to please them—is not going to be enough reason for a union of the unions.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.