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Van Roekel Talks AFL-CIO

Last Friday, I had a nice catch-up with Dennis Van Roekel, the leader of the National Education Association. We talked about the NEA's discussions about joining a larger labor coalition with AFL-CIO and Change to Win, two labor umbrella organizations that themselves are thinking of reuniting after a nasty split.

"Any discussion of where the labor movement will be in 10 to 15 years, I think NEA ought to be part of that discussion, as a 3.2 million-member organization," Van Roekel told me.

He added that a couple of factors make this a good time to consider joining the larger labor movement. First, over the last 10 years, four state affiliates of the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have merged: in New York, Florida, Montana and Minnesota. Since AFT is an AFL-CIO member, there's a lot of crossover. He estimated that perhaps 600,000 NEA members are also part of AFL-CIO-affiliated unions. Secondly, in 2006, the NEA and AFL-CIO struck a "solidarity partnership" to allow NEA members to sit on local labor councils.

Additionally, NEA worked more closely with other unions during the 2006 and 2008 election cycles than ever before, Van Roekel said. "No matter what comes out of this, I think there will be more cooperation and collaboration with the unions. We're learning a lot more about each other."

There doesn't seem to be an official timetable for all of this, but Van Roekel said things should become clearer by mid-April.

Van Roekel also indicated that this discussion would not necessarily smooth a merger with the AFT. That's an entirely separate issue, he said.

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