Magazine article Insight on the News

Teachers Union Megamerger Would Create Funding Base

Magazine article Insight on the News

Teachers Union Megamerger Would Create Funding Base

Article excerpt

Combining the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers could reduce bickering between the two groups and focus greater energy -- and more money -- on liberal causes.

The nation's two largest teachers unions have announced a tentative agreement to merge by 2002, signaling a possible truce after decades of fighting each other for members and influence. The proposed combination of the National Education Association, or NEA, and the American Federation of Teachers, or AFT, would create the nation's largest and richest union, with 3.2 million members and a $1.3 billion war chest and create a powerful funding base for the Democratic Party.

"This could be a very significant change," says Charlene Haar, president of the Education Policy Institute, a group dedicated to protecting individual rights in education policy, in Washington. "Instead of pitting individual union resources against each other, they'll have an absolutely concerted political effort."

The 940,000-member AFT already is known for its political support of Democrats. The NEA also has been a powerful force in the Democratic Party, although it recently tried to moderate its image by supporting liberal Republican candidates.

It's unclear how the new organization would relate to the AFL-CIO. The AFT is part of the federation, while the NEA is not. Early reports suggest that the combined union would affiliate with the AFL-CIO at the national level, although regional, state and local affiliates would not be required to do so.

Myron Lieberman, a senior research scholar at Bowling Green University's Social Philosophy and Policy Center, believes conservatives ought to have an alternative organization ready for teachers unwilling to join the AFL-CIO. "Conservatives are asleep at the switch here," says Lieberman. …

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