Delegates just voted down—by what appeared to be a relatively close standing vote—a proposal calling on the National Education Association's executive committee to "review the advantages and disadvantages" of a merger with the American Federation of Teachers, and to report back to the convention next year.
Even in some of the toughest times the NEA has ever faced, delegates are conflicted about a merger. (There are regional pockets of movement: North Dakota recently approved a merger, and Wisconsin is well on its way toward one. The other merged states are New York, Minnesota, Montana, and Florida.)
Here are some snippets of the debate:
"We now have experience and have learned from their successes and mistakes. We have people who have become experts in how to do this well. ... We are two great organizations who face many of the same types of challenges," said Bonnie Peck of Nevada, who moved the item to the RA floor. "I'm not asking that we merge tomorrow or even next year. I just believe it's time to restart this conversation."
But others spoke against it.
"Do we really need to re-examine how it is the AFT does business and how we do business?" asked Carrie Costello, a delegate from Massachusetts. "We already know all those answers."
Here are a few things worth considering about this item: The New Business Item was sponsored by a Nevada delegate. Nevada has virtually no AFT presence at all, so it's noteworthy to see it at the forefront of the push for a merger. (Utah, another state with little AFT presence, was also supportive, sources tell me, which is interesting because NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen hails from Utah.) Heavyweight California was in favor of the item; Michigan, despite having lost collective bargaining recently, seemed to oppose it.
As this vote shows, one should not underestimate the degree of cultural difference between the two national teachers' unions: NEA has extremely strong state affiliates, whereas AFT's strength is in its locals. NEA has its cherished direct democracy, while AFT is dominated by one or two internal political parties. NEA has term limits, AFT doesn't. And AFT is a member of the giant labor organization, the AFL-CIO, while the NEA is independent. Those are not small hurdles to a merger.