Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Questions on NEA/AFT Merger Prospects

While many in NYC speculated Randi's support of Hillary was aimed at procuring a cabinet position, I never bought into it. Randi's real ambition I believe is to lead the labor movement. A precursor of that would be a merger of the 1.4 million member AFT with the 3.4 million member NEA.

But is there any way Randi could end up leading a merged organization when the AFT is so much smaller?

We know there are significant differences - the NEA has term limits while the AFT has had only 4 presidents in 35 years.

The AFT is tightly controlled and has little democracy, with the UFT's Unity Caucus in NYC exerting control over the entire AFT through the Progressive Caucus, the national version of Unity. The NEA/AFT merger in NY State (NYSUT) has created a 600,000 bloc in the AFT and potentially the NEA.

Though I often disagree with Educational Intelligence Agency's Mike Antonucci, I respect his knowledge and opinions. (We spent a couple of days chatting in the press section at the AFT convention in Washington in 2004 - Mike though based in California, is originally a Bushwick guy from Brooklyn.)

With the ascension of Randi Weingarten as AFT president due to take place next week, I was wondering how strategies towards an NEA/AFT merger will emerge, so I sent him these questions:

I'm looking forward to your coverage of the NEA. Are you doing the AFT too? I cannot make it (I'm going to a Zombies concert in NYC and would rather see those zombies than the Unity drones in Chicago.)
One of the issues of interest is how a merger will play out with Randi leading the AFT and I hope you might touch on some of these issues.

Can she emerge as the head of a merged union? Will she be at the NEA convention and play a prominent role?

We know that the AFT/UFT model has resistance in the NEA but can a Unity Caucus-like machine be implemented state by state?

What role does the 600,000 member NYSUT play? Is this a strategy to take the NEA from underneath? What about other merged states?

What role will the UTLA play - will their more militant/left political orientation emerge as a counter to Weingarten's collaborative model that has so set back the teacher union movement in NYC?

There are groups meeting in Chicago working on the peace and justice caucus and some people from ICE will be there.

Hi Norm:
I won't be in Chicago for a number of reasons, but I've noted your stories about George Schmidt and his struggles to get a credential. My getting one was never a slam dunk either, and would have been particularly difficult this time.

You ask a lot of good questions, but I can only definitively answer a few. First, yes, Randi could emerge as the head of a merged union, but only under term limits. Any merger would probably lead to a tacit agreement to alternate presidents - first Van Roekel, then Randi. But timing is everything. A merger attempt would have to get started almost immediately, because I guarantee Randi wouldn't stand a chance against Lily Eskelsen, who is much like Randi, only vastly more popular.

Also, I find it highly unlikely that a caucus system would ever catch on in NEA. Some states might try it and like it, but it would take ages for it to spread.

As for NYSUT and the merged states, the thing to watch for there is any attempt at NEA to change its representation rules for the merged affiliates. As you probably know, though NEA claims all the NYSUT members as NEA members, NYSUT only pays NEA dues and has voting representation rights for the former NEANY members. It's the same in Minnesota, Montana and Florida. But Minnesota, for example, has been merged for almost 10 years now. Eventually there could be a move for full representation. If that happens, the merged states would provide a huge voting bloc for national merger and could conceivably squeak it through.

We can all speculate, but that would be the trigger. Because I don't think NEA has any more votes for national merger today than it did in 1998.

Unless something amazing happens, there is only one thing to watch for at this NEA convention, and that's Van Roekel's acceptance speech on the last day. No one has any idea what he'll do as president, and he may not do anything. But if he has an agenda, we'll get the first hint of it then.

It's too bad you're not going to Chicago. I wanted you to say hi to Leo for me. : )



  1. << Randi's real ambition I believe
    is to lead the labor movement. A precursor of that would be a merger of the 1.4 million member AFT with the 3.4 million member NEA. >>


    I agree with Norm on this and am glad that we will be able to cover the unfolding of Act One of this very important historical reality.

    Remember, too, that on July 14, Randi becomes one of the most powerful gay women in history.

    The impact of that shouldn't be underestimated. West of the Hudson River there are different ways of viewing things, something that has to be regularly reminded to people who live in the five boroughs and understand the NYC subway system. I'm personally looking forward to covering this entire reality -- and taking on all comers in the fact of some nasty stuff.

    Years ago, when I used to go to AFT conventions at the time Al Shanker was at the height of his power, I was amazed at how tone deaf many people from New York were to the nasty stuff that would come out of the rest of the USA when New York used its muscle -- always "winning" votes -- in the fact of the world west of the Hudson River.

    There was then (and I suspect is now) a lot of Anti-Semitism still out there. Just as the Obama campaign will soon become a way of peeling off the residual racism in the USA, so this developing movement to put together AFT and NEA will, in part at least, expose some festerings that are still there. The opportunity to support Randi (despite all of our disagreements with her, both at home in NYC and from elsewhere) will include the chance to check out and then checkmate two of the nastiest residues of hundreds of years: Anti Semitism and Homophobia. It seems like we're entering into the era where this is going to be possible. But not easy.

    Down the road, all of these perceived "weaknesses" from AFT could turn out to be strengths.

    Depsite some "progressive" gloss, NEA is still the direct descendent of those "unions" that we boss-run and all-white less than 50 years ago. While that is now ancient history, listen for the uglier shadows in what people from outside UFT and NYSUT will be saying next week. I think this is going to go very well, in the long run. But not easily.

    Also, our experiences in AFT are in the teeth of the nastiest challenges faced by urban areas in public education. You can't pay for a seminar on what we've already faced. You have to live it in struggle.

    George N. Schmidt
    Editor, Substance

  2. See, that was a fair and thought provoking post.

    Norman, why can't you do that?

  3. So you agree the AFT/UFT has little democracy. We're making progress.

  4. Yes I hope that we can checkmate homophobia and anti semitism so that the movement to oust the 'tough liberal' Weingarten and her minions may be that much broader and deeper.

  5. Were we reading the same post Norman? Gosh, you really can't see past your jaded lenses.

  6. Who's more obsessed - me with Randi or you with me?

  7. You with Randi.

    Our relationship is nothing more then me finding your "seething envy" (as you put it on another thread) quite interesting in a train wreck sort of way.


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