By Montana Cowtales
This page appeared on Facebook this week: https://www.facebook.com/MontanaUnified/ , signaling the public face of merger discussions between the Montana Public Employees Association and the MEA-MFT. The MEA-MFT is largely a teachers’ union with a mix of pink- and white-collar public employees while the MPEA is largely an organization of pink- and blue-collar public employees (think front-line office workers, law enforcement officers, equipment operators, etc.)
The MEA-MFT’s public persona is the urbane Eric Feaver, who has led the union for many years. Eric has pushed for the unification of all public employee union members under the MEA-MFT umbrella. On the surface, a merger will mean a stronger voice for public employees who routinely face hostile ridicule from the political right, wages lower than similar workers in the private sector and increased and sometimes impossible workloads. There are public employee union members in every county of Montana – that makes a difference in lobbying local legislators.
The MPEA is led by a feisty and bearded Quint Nyman, yet it began as an association that in the 1970s opposed to public employee collective bargaining. To the rest of the labor movement, it was then labeled a “company union,” beholden to the management of the State of Montana and local governments. Throughout the years, the MPEA along with AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) became the experts and defenders of public employee pensions and health care benefits.
The MPEA has been a ripe target for merger from unions throughout the labor movement from traditional liberal blue-collar leaning unions like the Laborers International Union and AFSCME as well as the MEA-MFT. What union wouldn’t drool at the prospect of close to 5000 dues-paying new members without having to do the grueling work of organizing these members unit by unit?
And so it seems the MEA-MFT has won the merger battle, which has been waged behind the scenes for over a decade. The MPEA resisted merger for many years in fear of losing its independence despite large financial enticements. Now, faced with a hostile President, Congress and most likely a U.S. Supreme Court, the decision was made to merge in hopes of lessening the bleed from national anti-union laws.
Good luck, brothers and sisters. Let me know what you think in the comments.