#1077 – Dick Bernard: Remembering Sandy Peterson, two Unions, and a Merger

Sandra Peterson died on October 24, 2015. Her death was local news in Minnesota. She deserves the kudos which are coming her way. She was a visionary leader.
(click to enlarge)

Some of the guests at the anniversary, Feb. 28. Center front is Judy Schaubach, then VP of MEA; 2nd from left in top row is Sandra Peterson, then President MFT.  Others: front row Sharon Kjellberg and Denise Specht; top row from left Paul Mueller, Greg Burns and Dick Bernard

Some of the guests at the anniversary, Feb. 28. Center front is Judy Schaubach, then VP of MEA; 2nd from left in top row is Sandra Peterson, then President MFT. Others: front row Sharon Kjellberg and Denise Specht; top row from left Paul Mueller, Greg Burns and Dick Bernard


I knew Sandy as a union leader, first of MFT, then Education Minnesota, “back in the day”. It was to be expected that she would be described as a “tough union leader and tender hockey grandmother” as though these were contradictions in terms. She, like so many “union leaders” and “grandparents” made, and still make, a very positive difference. She and I didn’t know each other well, but we certainly weren’t strangers either. Indeed, we office’d just a few doors down from each other for the last two years of my career, first at MFT, then at MEA.
(For many years, here in Minnesota, there were two competing unions: one was the Minnesota Education Association (MEA); the other the Minnesota Federation of Teachers (MFT). I was one of many MEA Field Representatives; Sandra was President of MFT.)
At this point, a little history would help to understand the “teacher union” business in context with Minnesota.
For most of my staff career (1972-2000), each organization viewed the other as the enemy, and we acted accordingly.
The two-union conflict is a long and interesting and important story, which veterans of one camp or the other can likely still recall with fervor (and differing interpretations). It is a story younger teachers cannot relate to.
The time of change in relationships was the 1990s.
I happened to be the MEA staff “on the ground” in Rosemount-Apple Valley in the early 1990s when the winds of change began to blow. Both “sides”, I think, knew that the teachers they represented were sick and tired of the unproductive conflict, and discussions led to proposals which led ultimately to state then national action: To my recollection, the two locals became Dakota County United Educators in 1993, the first merged MEA-MFT local, recognized by both national unions (the photo above is at the 20th anniversary of that merger in 2013).
In 1998, the two state unions merged to become Education Minnesota, and at the end of August, 1998, several of we MEA staff were assigned offices at the nearby MFT headquarters in St. Paul. President Sandra Peterson’s office was just down the hall from us, and while there was likely apprehension among all of us, it wasn’t visible and it didn’t last long.
On August 31, 1998, I took the two following photos outside the new Education Minnesota co-office; about the same time Sandra Peterson and MEA’s Judy Schaubach became the merged Unions Co-Presidents. (click to enlarge).
Changing the signage from MFT to Education Minnesota, August 31, 1998, 168 Aurora, St. Paul MN

Changing the signage from MFT to Education Minnesota, August 31, 1998, 168 Aurora, St. Paul MN


Some of the MFT staff August 31, 1998

Some of the MFT staff August 31, 1998


I retired from Education Minnesota two years later. My retirement had nothing whatsoever to do with the merger. It was an ordinary retirement.
The merger had been well planned, and the years of working more and more closely together on many things made the transition simpler.
It took a long while for the “brand” “Education Minnesota” to stick. (In some sectors, I doubt it will ever stick. For instance, the third Thursday and Friday of October will, it appears, always be called “MEA days” or “MEA vacation” in the public eye in Minnesota.)
It is 17 years since the merger of MEA and MFT. Anyone with less than 17 years of teaching experience has no real context of a time when there were two teacher unions in conflict with each other (and were thus easier to divide and conquer.)
Mergers take lots and lots of ability to find and build common ground. Sandra Peterson more than played a strong and positive role. There are adjectives better than “tough” which I would use to describe her and others who have built strong and effective unions, not only in the public school teacher sector.
“Visionary” comes to mind.
Unions are an asset to the public good, not otherwise.
Ironically, just a couple of days ago my copy of the NEA Retired magazine arrived in my mailbox. It’s cover topic is about Union. It is worth a read, here: I am the Union001
Bon Voyage, Sandra!

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