The California Teachers Association, which represents more than 70 percent of the state's public school teachers, is holding merger talks with the California Federation of Teachers, a move that would bring the giant affiliate of the National Education Association into the AFL-CIO.
California is one of three states in which the NEA is holding "discussions" about a possible merger with affiliates of the rival American Federation of Teachers. In Minnnesota and Wisconsin, the talks have not progressed as far.
At the same time, the NEA has petitioned three rival AFL-CIO public-employe unions for "no-raid" agreements in an effort to keep them from trying to steal each other's nonprofessional school employe members. The three are the Service Employees International Union; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the International Union of Operating Engineers.
The merger talks and the no-raid petition are part of an NEA campaign to become the single union representing approximately 7 million workers in the nation's public schools. With 1.9 million members, the NEA, not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, is the nation's largest union.
The NEA actions come at a time when the AFL-CIO is actively working to bring all unions into the federation. Last month, the 1.7 million-member Teamsters union reaffiliated with the AFL-CIO after a 30-year expulsion for corruption. The United Mine Workers union also is expected to reaffiliate eventually with the AFL-CIO.
AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland has discussed possible affiliation of the teachers union with NEA President Mary Futrell on three occasions in the last few years, most recently in September. In an interview last month, Futrell said there is "no formal desire" within the NEA to affiliate with the AFL-CIO.
The California talks, being closely monitored by officials at the national headquarters of both organizations, reached what one source described as a "sensitive stage" last Monday when the CTA made a formal merger proposal.
The informal merger discussions began about 18 months ago, but no formal proposal had been made until this week.
The greatest stumbling block appears to be the CFT's fate in any merger. The CTA has 173,000 members, while the CFT has only 20,000. As a result, sources indicated this week that the CTA proposal was to phase out CFT representation in a merged unit.
"The purpose of these talks is to get one organization, and sure as hell we're not going out of business," a CTA official said.
The AFT is pushing for a merger that will allow both unions to coexist within one organization while sharing a proportional amount of the dues money and leadership representation. An AFT official acknowledged that "we have to accept the reality of what the numbers are."
The CTA proposal was being sent to the Washington headquarters of the AFT for evaluation. Union officials said it was too soon to determine how much negotiating room the CTA position allows.
The two sides are scheduled to meet again next month.
Futrell said last month that she hoped that the discussions in California, Wisconsin and Minnesota would develop into a "different kind of relationship within the states to work not only with trade unions but also the possibility of merging with the AFT.
"When you look at Wisconsin, Minnesota and California, we outnumber the AFT about 10 to 1. So, basically, it is a matter of, 'Let's stop fighting, and let's see if we can talk about some kind of arrangement.' "
Futrell said, however, that, if there were to be "any kind of arrangement, then it would be a merger with us, and we would remain the dominant organization in those three states."
In her letter to the three unions that represent public school support staff, Futrell noted that everyone's time is wasted by attempts to raid each other's membership when 80 percent to 90 percent of nonprofessional school employes do not belong to a union.
Under her proposal, the unions would agree not to raid but would be free to battle for unorganized workers.