Tuesday, February 11, 2014

NYSUT and the NEA: Historical Background, Part 1

People have been telling me they are confused about what is really going on in the NYSUT split. To better understand what is happening in NYSUT some of the history might help. Much of the info comes from WikiPedia, plus whatever memory I have left.

This is a long one, so hang in there if you can. But I bet if you do things will be a little clearer. I will follow up with a Part 2.

First up in the series is the relationship between the AFT and the NEA in NY State back to the late 60s/early 70s.
 The reason this is important? The AFT locals were mostly based in the cities while the NEA were the smaller locals.

Thus the historical roots of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association goes back to the NEA. Therein lies some of the roots of the split going on today  - the divergent interests between the non-property tax based city ed funding vs the property tax needed to fund smaller locals. And Cuomo's property tax cap is killing them, thus their strong anti Cuomo position, one of the roots of the NYSUT split today.

Here is some important history as a backdrop to the formation of NYSUT from wikipedia

1961: The UFT was formed when Shanker's party won an election over the NEA and the old Teachers Union.
Despite a battle royale with the National Education Association (NEA), an infusion of cash by the AFT and the AFL-CIO enabled the UFT to win the December 16, 1961, election with 61.8 percent of the votes.... Wiki
Wiki goes into detail on the relationship over the years.
The NEA's state operation, the New York State Teachers Association (NYSTA), had been dominated by administrators until 1965, when they were excluded from membership.
The AFT's state affiliate, the Empire State Federation of Teachers, was very small. Shanker urged changes on the AFT state affiliate. The organization was renamed the New York State Federation of Teachers in the 1960s and the United Teachers of New York in 1971. That same year, Shanker was elected president of UTNY.
1971: To be clear. In 1971 Shanker was president of both the UFT and the renamed state AFT, UTNY - United Teachers of NY - I remember at the time thinking, "what an awful name -- sounds like a rash."
In 1971, Shanker and newly elected NYSTA [NEA] president Thomas Hobart entered into formal merger negotiations. The merger agreement was signed March 30, 1972. Hobart was elected president and Shanker executive vice president. Other offices included: Dan Sanders, first vice president; Antonia Cortese, second vice president; and Ed Rodgers, secretary-treasurer.
OK, So in 1971 we have the newly formed NYSUT with Hobart from the NEA as President and Shanker in the key Executive VP, which I recently found out was a sort of co-presidency with Shanker (and any Exec VP controlling the VOTE COPE political operation.) Sanders was from the UFT and Rogers and Cortese from the NEA - which over the years has morphed into: UFT gets Exec VP and another VP, upstate and Long Island get the Presidency and the other 2 positions. On the surface it looked like UFT was in the minority but we see today what happens when they feel they are losing control.

1974: Shanker becomes president of the AFT  tossing his former mentor, Dave Selden, into the junk heap. (I was there in Toronto for that and even got to ask the new President a question at the open mic). Then trouble with the NEA, which I as part of the opposition witnessed first hand. Note: Shanker now pres of UFT, AFT and Exec VP of NYSUT.

Soon after Shanker was elected in 1974 the NEA reached out to some of us in the opposition in the UFT and they took about 15 of us out to an expensive Indian restaurant (Gaylord's I think it was called). They were not happy with the merger engineered by their guy, Tom Hobart and Al Shanker, the elephant in the room. Nothing came of that since we were not going to get into dual unionism by setting up our own NEA outpost inside the UFT. Tensions never entirely disappeared.

Back to wiki:
NYSUT and UTNY had sought and won approval for the merger from both parent unions. But tensions with the NEA quickly became apparent. Hobart and Shanker began promoting a merger between the NEA and AFT at NEA meetings, an effort which met with a hostile response. NEA leadership began to isolate NYSUT officers and delegates at conventions and other meetings. The NEA staff, working through the UniServ system (which provides services to NEA local unions), began to actively turn other state and local NEA members against the merged union.
Shanker wanted to merge the NEA and AFT nationally and this was a major threat to the larger NEA given that Shanker would accept nothing less than the leadership of a merged organization -- and if that didn't happen he would use the Unity machine and undemocratic tactics to seize control. The very idea of Shanker in the NEA, which had term limits, was a deal killer. In fact it wasn't until Shanker died in 1997 that even the hint of merger talks resumed, though those eventually died too.

Sidetrack: What is happening today is a sort of end run around the national NEA by merging at the individual state levels. Wisconsin was the latest. For those who say Randi has her eyes on replacing Arne Duncan I would have argued that she wanted to head a merged AFT/NEA union. But I don't see that happening. But as pointed out below, the max number of merged states is 6 and Wisconsin is the 6th. The NEA ain't making the same mistake they made in the early 70's.

So given my 1974 story, the NEA became more aggressive in NY State but no match for Shanker. And note how Shanker responded: By pulling NYSUT out of the NEA.
In 1976, the NEA undertook an 'image enhancement' campaign in New York state. NYSUT officials saw this as a propaganda effort designed to undermine the merged union.
At the NYSUT convention in New York City that same year, delegates argued over the merits of the disaffiliation resolution. Shanker then delivered a powerhouse speech which galvanized the delegates. The delegates responded by passing a resolution that disaffiliated NYSUT from NEA.

Shanker and Hobart had, however, ignored a key provision in the merger agreement approved by both NEA and AFT. It stated that disaffiliation from either national group—within a five-year period of the 1972 merger—would obligate NYSUT to pay "liquidated damages" to the national organization from which NYSUT disaffiliated. NYSUT was ultimately required to pay NEA a multi-million dollar settlement.
This is the essence of Shanker and the Unity Caucus he set up -- outright undemocratic acts and whatever else you want to call it. Basically merged with the bigger NEA in NY State, absorbed them into the AFT and then dumped the NEA nationally.

Wiki again:
NEA responded to the disaffiliation move by setting up a rival state organization, the New York Education Association/New York NYEA. The NEA believed that many NYSUT locals—with at least 50,000 members—would leave the organization. While many locals did disaffiliate from NYSUT, a few soon rejoined. Over the next quarter-century NYEA's membership stagnated, while NYSUT's exploded thanks to its leaders' decision to recruit members outside the field of education.
1976: So now we are back to 2 teacher NY state orgs: Big AFT - NYSUT, small NEA - NYEA. Shanker had effectively swiped most of the NEA locals in the state and turned them into the AFT. Say what you will, the guy was Machiavellian brilliant. Let's also point out that by controlling the largest contingent of teachers in the AFT by far, Shanker was guaranteed the presidency for life -- which is exactly how it turned out. (Same for his successor in the UFT and AFT, Sandy Feldman, who basically died in office.)

Let's jump ahead to 2006:

On May 5, 2006, NYSUT voted to merge with the NEA/NY, the renamed NYEA. The 35,000-member NYEA had approved the merger agreement on April 29, 2006. [1] The merger became effective on September 1, 2006, and the newly merged union is now jointly affiliated with both the NEA and AFT.
So now we were back to where we were around 1976. A merged NEA/AFT in NYSUT. Wiki continues:
The AFT has long sought merger with the NEA on a national level. But acrimonious relationships between the two unions on the local level and AFT's insistence on what NEA and its affiliates consider undemocratic practices—as well as AFT's insistence upon affiliation with the AFL-CIO—have proven significant obstacles. Among AFT's "undemocratic" practices are its abolition of the secret ballot—its requirement that delegates to its convention vote for officers by roll-call ballot, identifying their choices and their names in writing.... The unions also agreed to support local- and state-level mergers where appropriate. Three other states have merged AFT-NEA affiliates: Florida, Minnesota and Montana. Among local mergers is that in Wichita, Kansas, long a battleground for the two national unions, and Los Angeles. Combined, the merged units represent 197,000 members. The NEA has 2.7 million members, while the AFT has 1.3 million. With the NYSUT merger, 681,000 members of the AFT (or about 52 percent) now belong to NEA.
So until Mike Antonucci from EIA explained this I didn't get a few things. Here is Mike's recent post on the Wisconsin merger. Read on if you haven't had enough yet because there are national implications on the merger issue:

Posted: 03 Feb 2014 09:30 AM PST
It has been so long since the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers attempted to merge it is easy to forget all the details of the policies and documents that were created in its aftermath. But one tiny item from those days may soon affect how future union affiliates approach merger.

After national merger went down to defeat at the 1998 NEA Representative Assembly, the delegates established guidelines to allow consenting NEA and AFT state affiliates to merge. These guidelines were incorporated into NEA’s by-laws and occasionally amended. One provision gave the nine-member Executive Committee the authority to approve state-level mergers.

However, as I reported and buried deep in this July 12, 1999 EIA Communiqué:
The guidelines limit the number of merged state affiliates to six. After that number, each merger will have to be approved by a vote of the Board of Directors. An effort to require a vote of the Representative Assembly for additional mergers was defeated on the floor of the assembly.
The upcoming merger between the NEA and AFT affiliates in Wisconsin will be the sixth one, so the authority for approving a hypothetical seventh merger would fall on the Board of Directors. By itself, this change might lead to a little more debate, but not much change in the result. Still, once delegates and activists start reviewing the merger guidelines, other issues may have to be addressed.

As they currently stand, NEA’s by-laws divide dues money and delegate representation according to a complicated formula based on each affiliate’s membership numbers before they merged. For example, when North Dakota merged, 81 percent of the members had belonged to the NEA affiliate. So NEA gets 81 percent of North Dakota’s national dues and AFT gets 19 percent. In New York, NEA only gets 8 percent.

Wait! When there is membership growth of more than three percent within a merged state, the dues from those additional members get split 50-50 between NEA and AFT.
This is already messy, particularly when an NEA national policy may affect 382,000 members in New York, of whom only 32,000 are represented at the RA. What happens when there are 10 or 12 merged affiliates?

The last thing NEA wants is another merger debate, so my guess is the union will try to maintain the status quo as much as possible and hope that the board – which, unlike the Executive Committee, has representatives from all six merged affiliates – will not rock the boat. What happens next will depend on whether other state affiliates will be driven by membership losses to try the merger route.
I asked Mike to explain why only 32,000  and only 8% for NYSUT rep in NEA:
As you know, when state affiliates merge the normal practice is to allow AFT to deal with the AFT locals, and NEA to deal with the NEA locals (the Tornillo thing a prime example). However, when NEA national makes a policy, it’s supposed to apply equally to all of its affiliates - NYSUT included.

I only bring it up because it’s NEA policy to support Common Core, and it’s NYSUT’s policy to oppose it. Now they’ve papered it over with the “implementation” thing, but it does illustrate that NEA national is a factor in New York, and could be a greater factor under the right circumstances.

But NYSUT doesn’t get to influence those national policies according to its weight. It does so according the old NEA New York weight. I’m not suggesting that NYSUT should get more representation than the NEA dues they pay would warrant, but it shows the limits of the merger guidelines as they currently exist.

I’m also looking forward to the day when the 3 million member NEA merges with the 1.5 million member AFT, and they have to explain to the press how they only have 3.8 million combined members.
In other words, the NEA was smart enough this time not to allow the massive Unity behemoth into its den. 
Mike often points out that the AFT numbers especially are bogus -- lots and lots of retirees from NY included.

Well, I hope I've wiped you out and you can take a long nap - or continue the one you began on the 3rd paragraph.

Look for Part 2 when I recover.

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