IT’S THE PROCESS….  

11/22/02

 

Although one would never know it from the official publications of either the National Education Association of New York (NEA/NY) or the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), talks to bring about a merger of the two unions have resumed and are occurring with some frequency and intensity.  Their resumption without a concomitant serious engagement of the membership of NEA/ New York is but the latest testament to the fact that our leaders still don’t understand why our attempts at merger have failed in the past.  Once again, they seem bound and determined to try to build a merger from the top down, hoping to bring a new state merger document to the April Delegate Assembly (DA) where somehow it will miraculously pass, even though just about nothing has been done to change the opinions of those who voted a merger down several years ago.  Let’s remember that it takes a two-thirds vote to adopt any proposed merger agreement.

             I’ve been speaking and writing about the wisdom of a merger long before it was fashionable to do so.  I take some pride in and credit for the fact that many leaders in NEANY are today pro-merger because of the work I have done to build support for the goal of uniting all teachers and educational support professionals in one strong union.  It is, therefore, enormously sad and frustrating to contemplate our failure to do the organizing work necessary to create a merger our membership could enthusiastically embrace.  We keep thinking that if we create the “right” merger plan, our local leaders will flock to its support.  We fail to understand that our failures to date have had at least as much to do with process as the merger plans themselves.

             What might a successful merger process look like?

             That process surely begins with coming to terms with the fact that few, if any, votes will be turned to merger by the rehashing and repackaging of pro-merger rhetoric from past failed efforts.  While very few will state publicly that they are unalterably opposed to a merger, many do feel comfortable saying that the plans that have been presented to them have contained serious flaws.  I strongly suspect that for as long as we continue to put plans before them that they have had no hand in shaping, they will continue to find these “serious flaws.”  That’s because most any plan for putting two organizations of very different culture and history together is going to have flaws, and stating that one can’t support a plan because it has flaws has become the polite way of expressing a fear of merger or opposition to one.  So, step one is to put away the clichéd rhetoric.  We’re long past the stage in attempting to create a merger where it will be of any help.  Most people just shut down at a hint that it is coming their way, or they respond with what by now have become the anti merger clichés. 

             The next step is key but complicated.  We must work out with NYSUT  a comprehensive plan to involve our members and theirs in serious joint efforts.  Let’s have a joint committee to develop a strategy to expose the fraud that goes by the deceptive name of the “Leave No Child Behind Act.”  Let’s plan joint lobby days, one state, one federal.  Let’s develop structures to work on political campaigns where we can co-endorse candidates.  Let’s have some substantive meetings between the members of governance of both organizations at which people come prepared to talk intelligently about the things that have divided them.  Let the leadership of both unions develop some common strategic objectives that will excite and unite their members in common cause.  If the truth be told, both have become pretty boring lately.  We even need to bring some of our staunchest opponents of merger to the table with NYSUT.  It  should not be acceptable anymore to just sit back and say, “No.” We have to bring people together while we are attempting to bring their organizations together.  Why does that appear to be such a radical idea to some?

             Along with bringing people together to do union work of every kind, we need to build some interim structures that bring the two unions together in a closer and closer relationship.  The pace of the development of these structures should be determined not by the dictates of some top-down plan but rather by the degree to which working together brings about new levels of trust and confidence and creates new relationships, as it seems likely to do.  Leaders on both sides need to be directly involved in monitoring this confidence- building period, and they must be politically adept and foresightful enough to be ready to take steps forward when conditions warrant.  What difference does it make, after all, if it takes two, three or even five years to put the two unions completely together?  We’ve been fighting with each other for much longer than that.

             My argument is a simple one, really.  I want our union to do for a merger what unions are supposed to be good at.  I want us to organize a merger between NEA/ New York and NYSUT that the overwhelming number of our members can feel comfortable about, perhaps even proud.  

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