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Two teachers unions moving toward merger

At times bitter adversaries, the state's two teachers unions now are talking about merging into a single organization that would represent more than 100,000 teachers and school support staff. The unions are considering the move so they can be more effective in dealing with the problems that confront the state's schools, according to a joint statement Monday by Pat Tornillo, president of the 45,000-member Florida Education Association-United (FEA-United), and Jeff Wright, president of the 55,000-member Florida Teaching Profession-National Education Association (FTP-NEA).

FEA-United, established in 1886, was the only statewide teachers union until 1974, when FTP-NEA was formed by a faction that split off because of philosophical differences raised in the aftermath of the 1968 statewide teachers strike.

Although both unions have many common goals for education, and have lobbied the Legislature and governor together, there have been fierce fights between them as they competed for members. In the Tampa Bay area, Pasco County teachers and support staff and Hernando County support staff are represented by FEA-United. Pinellas, Hillsborough and Citrus county teachers and support staff, as well as Hernando teachers, are represented by FTP-NEA.

The merger "has been in the works for a while," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. "I think it's probably very forward-thinking to try and be as strong as they can."

The merger could be complicated, as the unions differ sharply on matters such as the right to strike vs. mandatory arbitration, Blanton said.

However, if the unification is successful, "it could lead to the eventual merger of both (national) unions," he said. "Florida would be a bellwether state."

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