Teaching Profession

Bid to Increase Merged-Affiliate Representation Fails at NEA Assembly

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 05, 2015 2 min read
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A proposed amendment to the National Education Associaton’s constitution to increase merged-affiliate clout within the union failed at the NEA Representative Assembly, after just 16.1 percent of delegates voted in favor of it.

The amendment would have given the states in which affiliates of the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have merged more representation within the union. Those states are Florida, Minnesota, Montana, New York, and North Dakota. (Wisconsin unions have discussed a merger, but that seems to be on hold for now.)

This gets into pretty wonky territory, but essentially, the proposal would have allotted delegates to the NEA’s Representative Assembly in line with the number of actual members, rather than in proportion to dues dollars.

Huh? You ask. I’ll try to explain.

Take New York. Under the 2005 merger agreements, most of New York members’ dues go to the American Federation of Teachers, which represented a great majority of teachers in that state prior to the merger. Its representation in the NEA is proportional to this dues division, not members.

So, if the amendment had passed, New York would have gotten far more representation (and become much more powerful) within the union, despite a great majority of its dues dollars going to the AFT.

Does that matter? Yes, because the NEA is essentially run by its state affiliates.

Supporters of this change, mostly from the merged states, used the slogan “one member, one vote” to bolster it. In fact, I’m told that to show solidarity this morning, educators in the merged-state affiliates did a silent walk into the Representative Assembly.

The NEA’s New Jersey delegation was the strongest opponent to the change. In fact, it passed out campaign literature to oppose it. The New Jersey Education Association’s argument was centered on the idea that states like New York pay far more in dues to the AFT than to the NEA, and therefore shouldn’t get as much representation as states like their own. (The NJEA is among the NEA’s most powerful state affiliates.)

The voting results were first reported by Mike Antonucci, a union watchdog and critic, at Intercepts.

I realize that this seems super inside-baseball and wonky. But it matters, if only to the extent that it highlights how difficult any merger between the NEA and the AFT will ultimately be, because of differences in their structure, affiliate control, and so forth.

The NEA and the AFT are working more closely than ever before, and their two leaders are more in sync (publicly, anyway) than we’ve seen in a long while. But as this episode indicates, they are still far from reaching agreement on how to join.

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