It has been so long since the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers attempted to merge it is easy to forget all the details of the policies and documents that were created in its aftermath. But one tiny item from those days may soon affect how future union affiliates approach merger.
After national merger went down to defeat at the 1998 NEA Representative Assembly, the delegates established guidelines to allow consenting NEA and AFT state affiliates to merge. These guidelines were incorporated into NEA’s by-laws and occasionally amended. One provision gave the nine-member Executive Committee the authority to approve state-level mergers.
However, as I reported and buried deep in this July 12, 1999 EIA Communiqué:
The guidelines limit the number of merged state affiliates to six. After that number, each merger will have to be approved by a vote of the Board of Directors. An effort to require a vote of the Representative Assembly for additional mergers was defeated on the floor of the assembly.
The upcoming merger between the NEA and AFT affiliates in Wisconsin will be the sixth one, so the authority for approving a hypothetical seventh merger would fall on the Board of Directors. By itself, this change might lead to a little more debate, but not much change in the result. Still, once delegates and activists start reviewing the merger guidelines, other issues may have to be addressed.
As they currently stand, NEA’s by-laws divide dues money and delegate representation according to a complicated formula based on each affiliate’s membership numbers before they merged. For example, when North Dakota merged, 81 percent of the members had belonged to the NEA affiliate. So NEA gets 81 percent of North Dakota’s national dues and AFT gets 19 percent. In New York, NEA only gets 8 percent.
Wait! When there is membership growth of more than three percent within a merged state, the dues from those additional members get split 50-50 between NEA and AFT.
This is already messy, particularly when an NEA national policy may affect 382,000 members in New York, of whom only 32,000 are represented at the RA. What happens when there are 10 or 12 merged affiliates?
The last thing NEA wants is another merger debate, so my guess is the union will try to maintain the status quo as much as possible and hope that the board – which, unlike the Executive Committee, has representatives from all six merged affiliates – will not rock the boat. What happens next will depend on whether other state affiliates will be driven by membership losses to try the merger route.