MERGER OVERCOMES ONE MORE OBSTACLE

7/13/05

   The good news for New Yorkers from the 2005 NEA Convention in Los Angeles is that the body approved (4,943 in favor (65%) and 2,664 against (35%)), a change to its by-laws to permit implementation of the merger agreement between NEA/ New York and the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT).  While the by-laws of the NEA mandate that officers of state affiliates be elected by secret ballot, an exemption has been carved out for New York whereby locals will have the option of deciding on how they will vote for state officers, an option not open to NYSUT locals before.  Now, work can proceed to draft a constitution for the new state organization to be put before their respective conventions for ratification next April.  Assuming passage, the new organization will be open for business in September 2006.   The end will finally come to the senseless competition between two unions whose central mission is the same saving public education from the reactionary right that seeks its demise.  

    The discomforting report from the convention is the ferocity of those NEA delegates who sought to defeat the by-law amendment and thereby the New York merger.  In the name of high principle, the inalienable right of NEA members to vote for officers by secret ballot, some I met would rather have lost the thirty-five thousand NEA members in New York than countenance sanctioning a change to the by-laws that applied only to New York and that extended the right to vote by secret ballot to the four hundred and fifty thousand NYSUT members who previously did not have that option.   

   Those familiar with the NEA will be tempted to think that Im talking about delegates from some of the southern states, those more conservative parts of the country.  While to be sure some states like Alabama voted against us, it is harder to understand the militant opposition of labor states like New Jersey and Michigan .  Reaching out to a delegate from New Jersey I met at a meeting of the National Council of Urban Educators, an influential caucus in the NEA, I was totally nonplussed by his angry response to a simple and friendly request to discuss the by-law amendment with him and some of his colleagues.  Why are you talking to me? he said in the most unwelcoming tone.  We dont want to talk about any merger.  Were against all mergers with the AFT.  Silly me,   I thought the debate was about secret ballot.  

    In her farewell column for the New Jersey Education Association, retiring President Edithe Fulton finds herself wishing for a magic wand to bring about certain desirable outcomes among which is, Adding shades of gray to a black and white world-view. Harsh lines are being drawn in the world every day between cultures and nations, emphasizing differences over shared concerns. We are all passengers on this tiny rock, heading toward a common destination. We must never forget that.  The same could well be said about the merger of once rival unions.

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