Unions' merger postponed

3rd February 1995 at 00:00
The long-debated merger between the two big teacher unions has been temporarily shelved after the breakdown of 18 months of talks. Like the two biggest teaching unions in England and Wales, the National Education Association and the smaller American Federation of Teachers, have differing characters and operating styles, much like the National Union of Teachers and National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in England and Wales.

They first tried to join forces 20 years ago, but failed. The latest merger negotiations "broke off amicably after both parties reluctantly agreed that many of the internal issues separating the two organisations were insurmountable at this time," a statement said.

"Despite termination of the talks, both NEA and AFT remain committed to the concept of merger at the national level and hopeful that the discussions can resume sometime in the future."

The AFT has 850,000 members and a high-profile leader, Albert Shanker, who is described as sometimes irascible. His Sunday column in the New York Times is a paid-for advertisement in which he gives his views on educational issues.

The characteristic which distinguishes the AFT from the more sedate NEA is its belligerence. It is more confrontational and is a member of the AFL-CIO, the equivalent of the Trades Union Congress.

The 2.2 million-member NEA is led by Keith Geiger, who is regarded as more businesslike than Shanker. It considers itself to be a professional association and forbids local affiliates from joining the AFL-CIO.

No one is saying what prompted the breakdown in talks, but there is little doubt the question of AFL-CIO membership was a big issue. The history of inter-union conflict in some states was also important. There was concern among union members that they would lose independence in a merger.

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