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SERVING THE MEMBERS?

5/13/02

      When the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers made their NEAFT Partnership Agreement last year, I wrote that I believed that it was much too little too late, coming as it did after a completely botched attempt to build a real merger of the two education unions. Yet, I held out some hope and said, "The leadership of both unions are challenged to quickly make the words of the Partnership a reality for the members in every local union. Bold and skillful leadership can make of the Partnership Agreement more than its words denote."

    Clearly the leadership of both national unions have failed to capitalize on this opportunity. There has been little if any joint activity of the NEA and AFT that has been visible at the local level. Sure, we have heard from time to time of joint projects on health care and such, but the fact of the matter is that the rank and file membership of both organizations has not had any experience of partnership with the "other" union. Their members and their organizational culture are as foreign as they always were, partnership or no partnership. What we have seen is what has become the characteristic confusion by the leadership of both organizations of talk with action. Rarely is all of the rhetoric of the leaders of the NEA and AFT translated to organized action on the ground.

    Here in New York matters are even worse. At the same time the NEA and AFT were putting the finishing touches on the NEAFT Partnership, NYSUT, the AFT affiliate in New York , was busily raiding the Greece Teachers Association, an NEA/ New York local of some twelve hundred members. More recently, as a no-raid agreement was to be signed by NEA/New York and NYSUT, the AFT affiliate refused to sign because, we are lamely told, they needed assurances that in the event of a merger, any costs of amalgamating NEA/New York staff with their own would be covered by the NEA or AFT or both. What any of that has to do with a no-raid agreement is beyond me. It is patently obvious that in the event that the difficult job of building the political consensus for a merger is accomplished, there would be no serious financial impediments to merging the two staffs.  More recently, NYSUT's objection to signing a no-raid agreement is predicated on their insistence that independent local education unions not be covered by a no-raid pact.  That's just shorthand for raiding in steps.  First a local goes independent.  Shortly thereafter it joins the other organization.

    So, taking their rhetoric for what it is worth, what NYSUT seems to be doing is planning further raids on NEA/ New York locals, planning, I suspect, a different sort of merger, raiding as much of NEA/ New York as they can get and forgetting about the rest. They have just left one thing out in the composition of their strategy. Left unaddressed is how igniting a jurisdictional war between two unions serves the interests of the membership they claim to serve. Yet, it is the members dues dollars that will fund the battle, a battle which will certainly have more to do with the egos and power of leadership than it has with bettering the status and conditions of any teacher or educational support professional.

    Perhaps we should have known when the NEAFT Partnership was passed that tentative and uninspired leadership on both sides would render the document just empty words and that they would fail to meet the challenge before them.  

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