February 28 I took a short drive to attend the 20 year anniversary of the creation of the merged Dakota County United Educators (DCUE) in the south metro communities of Rosemount, Apple Valley and Eagan MN. It was good to re-visit the long ago accomplishment and to re-meet many fine people from the two memorable years of 1990-92.
My involvement there began as MEA field representative for the Rosemount Education Association in the summer of 1990; it ended with the October 1992 formal agreement that was, according to then-Rosemount Federation of Teachers and now Dakota County United Educators President Jim Smola, “the first true merger between an AFT and NEA local in the country.”
(click on photos to enlarge)
The merger was a big deal. In a real way, it was similar to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall (1989). Well over 20 years of organized animosities between two rival teacher organizations in Minnesota essentially came to an end with the Dakota County merger. While the Minnesota state merger (MEA, MFT to Education Minnesota) didn’t occur until 1998, the October, 1992 merger rendered obsolete the need for continuing the sometimes fierce and always apparent battle for dominance that began in the 1960s, intensified in the late 60s and early 70s, and began to diminish towards the end of the 1980s.*
“Winning” was redefined. No longer did there did there have to be a “loser”. Competition of ideas was within the community, rather than organization against organization.
The Dakota County merger was a very big deal that could neither be ignored or denied within the teacher union movement.
I got to remembering those two years, and the years immediately before when bitter relationships between “Union” and “Association” began to thaw. I remember specific events, as others involved at the time will remember their own specific events, turning points, etc.
My memories are no more, or less, important than anyone elses.
As I think about that merger, I am of the opinion that it was individual members more than union leadership who were the real motivators of the merger process.
Members were sick of the fighting.
In Dakota County a razor-thin bargaining election victory in 1989, overturned and reversed by court action, probably intensified quiet thought and conversation among many teachers in the District: “what’s the point of our fighting?” was a legitimate question.
Still, you don’t just wash away over 20 years of investment in pretty intense competition. It requires risk taking on many levels, and people willing to take those risks, to make a new bargain, to invent a new way of getting along.
The merger was made, documents signed, and dignitaries came to celebrate the merger in October, 1992.
I was at that gathering, and I still remember the occasion.
Merger certainly didn’t make everything perfect. The same group of teachers remained in the bargaining unit, with their own ideas, priorities, and ways of approaching problem solving.
But rather than being in opposing armed camps, the out of power minority in a powerless yet very powerful position; now, everyone was in the majority, and the collective Dakota County United Educators needed to figure problems out, together.
Everyone shared rights and responsibilities.
From all appearances, the DCUE merger has worked for the betterment of all, especially public education in School District #196.
And a personal salute to my colleague, Bob Tonra, who preceded me working with REA.
POSTNOTE: Ironically, on the same day this local union was celebrating 20 years of collaboration for the benefit of all, the United States Congress went into recess guaranteeing “sequester” – a dramatic sign of failure of working relationships between Republicans and Democrats.
Our whole country could benefit by some of the lessons taught by the teachers of Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan over 20 years ago.
We “members” of the United States of America are the ones responsible for the change we wish to see.
* A QUICK HISTORY SEMINAR, A PERSONAL OPINION: A book deserves to be written – perhaps one already has that I’m not aware of – about Teacher-Management relationships in Minnesota. My first teaching position was 50 years ago – 1963-64 – in Minnesota. Here’s a quick summary as seen by one person who’s ‘been there, done that’. I solicit comments:
1. The “bring and beg” years comprise most of the history of teacher compensation and other rights in this state and nation. There were very few rights and many responsibilities. There was no parity of any kind in labor-management relationships. Some would see these as “the good old days”. My parents were career public school teachers, and I know the life they had. I have 67 of the 71 one-year contracts that they signed while teaching in North Dakota. There was only job insecurity.
2. The 1960s were a restive time and militance increased. There were two teacher organizations: the larger, more rural Minnesota Education Association (MEA), which was viewed as a management run organization; and the smaller, more urban, Minnesota Federation of Teachers (MFT), which viewed itself as a more aggressive labor union, affiliated with AFL-CIO. By the mid-1960s the administration dominance of MEA was weakening, and times were getting more tense within the Association.
I was in “MEA”, becoming active about 1968. We were, by then, a teacher’s union. In my years, I never saw the sharp distinction that the MFT tried to highlight as it competed with the Association for members and influence. In my recollection, the two organizations were doing the same things for the same reasons: working for justice and fair treatment for teachers. Doubtless, to this day, there would be arguments disputing my description of “MEA”
3. 1967, the State Legislature enacted “Meet and Confer”, which was in reality a bargaining law, albeit without any legal teeth. Management still decided terms and conditions in the end. But it was a huge change. A key provision called for something called a Teacher’s Council, which in locals where there were competing unions, there was proportionate representation on the Council. So, in a particular situation there might be four MEA members and one MFT member on a Council; or four MFT members and one MEA member in another, and so on. It was in this time that I became active. Often the minority used its position as a critic of the majority, to leverage anger and dissension. The MFT criticized Meet and Confer as not really bargaining; but it was a big step in the right direction.
4. 1971, the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA) was passed. It was a true bargaining law, with binding arbitration of grievances and the like. A key provision was the call for an Exclusive Representative, no more minority representation on a Teachers Council. This heightened competition initially, but as time went on there was less and less possibility of successful “bargaining elections”. Apple Valley-Rosemount-Eagan, the topic of this blogpost, was an apparent exception to the rule.
5. 1998, MEA and MFT became Education Minnesota, functioning as a single labor organization representing teachers and other education employees.
6. The much-amended PELRA remains in effect in Minnesota, and most recently right-wing zealots have been attempting to strip public employees of long held rights through methods similar to Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin. Today’s danger is that, after 40 years of PELRA, very few teachers and other public employees have any real notion of how difficult the struggles were to achieve what they now take for granted.