Former NEA executive director John Wilson thinks the time is ripe for the two national teachers’ unions to merge:
It must have surprised Van Roekel when Weingarten picked up that challenge and stated that NEA and AFT should try again to merge. The word on the street had been that AFT was unlikely to support merger during Weingarten’s term. Van Roekel responded, “That’s a discussion for another time.” When you look at the attacks on public sector unions, that time may be now.
A lot has changed in the ten years since NEA delegates to their Representative Assembly turned down a merger agreement supported by the leadership of both unions. Now almost one million members belong to a merged local or state. Merged states include New York, Florida, Minnesota, and Montana. Locals like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Wichita, Austin, and San Antonio, and several others are merged. Folks, that proverbial train has left the station.
It actually has been 14 years since the merger attempt, but Wilson is correct: a lot has changed. Opposition has waned, as Wilson states, but he fails to note that support for a national merger has waned as well. The NEAFT Partnership committees and councils have disappeared, and there are still bad feelings between the two unions in many states. The NEAFT Merger Caucus has no good news to report.
No one would be happier than I if another merger was attempted. With all the subterfuge, secret meetings, phony body counts and outright bald-faced lying that went on in 1998, it was a bonanza of great stories for an education labor reporter. Needing a two-thirds majority of the Representative Assembly to approve the merger, NEA managed only 42% support in 1998. I suspect if the proper groundwork were laid, the union could at least get majority support next time.
But even if they managed to eke out two-thirds, do they really think every single affiliate will meekly go along? When NEA went to unified dues in 1970s – that is, to join your local union you also had to join the state and national unions – it led to the formation of the three largest independent teachers’ organizations in America – the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and the Missouri State Teachers Association. A national merger could cause an equal amount of upheaval.
Just this morning we learned that members of the Roscommon Education Association – with somewhere between 80 and 150 members – will vote on whether to disaffiliate from the Michigan Education Association. The practice is rare, but could become less so if a merger takes place, particularly if AFL-CIO dues are added to the mix.
So when NEA President Dennis Van Roekel says merger is “a discussion for another time,” he probably means sometime after his term in office ends.