The pullout of at least three major labor unions from the AFL-CIO is unlikely to have much effect on the American Federation of Teachers—at least in the short term, union representatives and observers say.
The 1.3 million-member AFT announced at its annual meeting late last month that it would stay with the AFL-CIO, and, in fact, AFT President Edward J. McElroy played a critical role in negotiating with leaders of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the other groups before they decided to split.
Alex Wohl, a spokesman for the AFT, said most of the teachers’ union locals would not see any effect. Some, however, could get a slight bump in membership from such members of the departing unions as school health-care workers, he added.
Whether the departures of the Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union, and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union from the AFL-CIO will harm or rejuvenate the ailing labor movement was a topic debated by numerous analysts.
Could they, for example, spur the nation’s largest teachers’ union, the 2.8 million-member National Education Association, to reconsider a merger or more partnerships with the AFT? NEA members rejected a 1998 proposal to merge with the AFT, in part because of the AFL-CIO’s image as a blue-collar organization that some teachers associated with union corruption.
“My tendency is to think this is a wash for the teachers’ unions; nothing really changes,” said Mike Antonucci, the director of the Education Intelligence Agency, an Elk Grove, Calif.-based teachers’ union watchdog.
NEA President Reg Weaver agreed. “AFT is still part of the AFL-CIO, … and the AFL-CIO is still in existence,” he said. Further, he said, “I don’t think that it will hinder any kind of communicating or relationships that NEA and AFT have.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2005 edition of Education Week