- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

Leaders of the AFL-CIO yesterday approved a measure allowing local affiliates of the nation’s largest teachers union to join the labor federation, a move to help bolster the labor movement following last year’s defection of five unions.

Under the terms of the deal, the international union of the 2.8 million-member National Education Association (NEA) will remain independent of the AFL-CIO, but its local unions may apply for membership in the AFL-CIO central labor councils.

Five unions left the AFL-CIO last year to form the Change to Win Federation, a rival labor group. The split resulted in the departure of 5 million members from the AFL-CIO and the loss of about $25 million in funding.

The AFL-CIO now represents about 9 million people in 52 unions.

The decision to let local unions of the NEA join the federation came on the first day of the AFL-CIO executive council’s meeting at an oceanside resort in San Diego. The move was first reported in The Washington Times two weeks ago.

AFL-CIO leaders yesterday also said they plan to spend more on their political program this year than they did during the 2002 midterm elections, when the labor federation spent $34 million.

NEA President Reg Weaver said the new partnership between the teachers union and the labor federation isn’t a first step toward joining the AFL-CIO.

Mr. Weaver said he doesn’t know how many of the NEA’s 13,200 unions will decide to seek membership in the 520 central labor councils of the AFL-CIO. NEA membership in the central labor councils is significant in an election year because the councils are largely responsible for grassroots political activity.

“We will be able to wage stronger campaigns” on issues from health care to pensions and No Child Left Behind, the law supported by President Bush to improve student achievement, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney said.

Allowing the NEA locals to join the central labor councils required the consent of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which represents 1.3 million members. Both the AFT and AFL-CIO embraced a long-standing policy that members of the independent NEA should join the labor federation only through a merger with the AFT.

But AFT President Edward J. McElroy “not only sensed that the time for this historic coupling had come, he worked hard to make it happen,” Mr. Sweeney said.

“Having the support of NEA affiliates inside the AFL-CIO’s local and state labor bodies will give educators an even stronger voice inside the labor movement and will help our unions become more powerful advocates for quality education and for an economy that works for all Americans,” Mr. McElroy said.

The effort to let NEA locals join central labor councils began three years ago when the Jefferson County Teachers Association, which represents 5,200 school teachers in the Louisville, Ky., area lobbied for admission in labor council there.

“We’re glad about this,” said Stephen Neal, Jefferson County Teachers Association executive director.

The teachers association had membership in the central labor council for years, even though it wasn’t allowed to be in it, and was expelled from the group three years ago.

“We’ll rejoin and go back to doing what we were doing,” Mr. Neal said.

Mr. Sweeney also said two, small independent unions will join the AFL-CIO: The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, with 10,000 members, and the United Transportation Union, with 65,000 members.

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