The National Education Association, with no front-runner emerging after extensive polling of its members, is expected to endorse three Democratic presidential candidates when its political action committee meets early next month.
The NEA, the country's largest union with 1.9 million members, is expected to endorse Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and Jesse L. Jackson at the Dec. 3 meeting of its NEAPAC Council. The NEA board of directors is scheduled to meet later that same day to act on whatever recommendation the council makes.
The apparent decision to pursue a multiple-candidate strategy comes as the rest of organized labor is struggling to remain neutral -- at least at the national level -- until a front-runner emerges. The AFL-CIO has asked all its member unions to refrain from an endorsement until the federation either endorses a candidate or releases the individual unions to go their own way in the elections.
While they wait for action from the AFL-CIO, several key unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Communications Workers of America and the International Association of Machinists are pursuing a strategy in which they are instructing their locals to simply get as many delegates to next year's Democratic convention as possible.
In Iowa, for example, the state affiliate of AFSCME this week endorsed Dukakis and the local United Auto Worker affiliate representing retired workers endorsed Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.).
NEA officials said the endorsement decision rests primarily with NEA President Mary Futrell who will make her recommendation to the council Dec. 3.
Futrell said this week that because no one candidate has surfaced as the front-runner, there is "strong support for a multiple endorsement." She said the NEA state affiliates have told her they would not be upset if more than one candidate was endorsed next month.
She said she was concerned about the problem of eventually rallying support for one candidate after endorsing more than one candidate.
"My ultimate goal is to go to our NEAPAC Council with a recommendation which will maximize our involvement in the Democratic and Republican conventions so that we can help nominate someone who will be good for education," Futrell said.
However, it seems unlikely the NEA will endorse a Republican candidate. Futrell said it would be difficult recommending any candidate who did not participate in the candidate process set up by the association. None of the Republican candidates fully participated.
Futrell is expected to endorse those candidates the NEA believes can be elected, because under the NEA constitution the national association cannot spend any of the estimated $4 million NEAPAC money on a candidate the organization has not endorsed.
Dukakis, Simon and Jackson are the strongest candidates among NEA members. The union has been polling its membership since May, and those three candidates are the clear front-runners. Although Jackson is expected to win NEA endorsement, he is not considered a viable candidate by some within the NEA. Poll results among NEA members show that although 37 percent give Jackson a favorable rating, 33 percent consider him unacceptable as a presidential candidate.
Futrell said that Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) was "someone who is surfacing" among NEA members, particularly in the southeast. However, there were no indications he would get an endorsement from the NEA next month.