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|Full name||Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers|
|Head union||American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association|
|Key people||Eric Feaver, president|
|Office location||Helena, Montana|
MEA-MFT is primarily an education union, with most of its members being teachers, paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel. The union also represents large numbers of faculty in the state's public higher education system, and a wide variety of workers in state government ranging from accountants to foresters to health care workers. The union also represents a small number of health care workers in the private sector.
MEA-MFT was formed in 2000 by the merger of the two unions: The Montana Education Association (MEA), an affiliate of the National Education Association (NEA), and the Montana Federation of Teachers (MFT), an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The two unions had long been rivals, with MEA organizing teachers in most of the state's large cities and MFT organizing teachers and other education workers in small towns and rural counties as well as state workers and higher education.
The two unions began a closer, cooperative working relationship in 1990 when MEA president Eric Feaver and MFT president Jim McGarvey jointly accused the Montana Lottery of failing to deliver on promises to improve teacher retirement benefits in the state. From 1991 to 1993, the unions expanded their cooperative efforts into the legislative field, jointly endorsing candidates and winning passage of a number of important pieces of legislation.
In 1993, the unions held their first joint professional development conference. A year later, the unions merged their locals in Missoula as an experiment and trial run for a possible statewide merger. With the backing of AFT president Albert Shanker and NEA president Keith Geiger, the MFT approved a resolution expressing its intent to merge in 1996. MEA followed suit a year later, and a joint merger committee was established to write a constitution develop transition procedures.
In 1998, national merger between the AFT and NEA seemed imminent. While the AFT executive council approved the merger, delegates to the NEA Representative Assembly failed to approve merger by the necessary two-thirds majority. This appeared to imperil the MEA-MFT merger, but Feaver and McGarvey declared their intention to merge regardless of what the parent bodies' said. The NEA and AFT quickly established national guidelines for state and local level mergers, with the MEA-MFT merger providing the first test case.
In 1999, the unions merged their political action committees and staff.
From March 31 to April 1, 2000, 400 MEA and MFT delegates met in Helena to approve the merger, establish a dues structure, and finalize a budget for the new merged organization. Officers were elected in May.
The merged entity's first president was Feaver, and the first vice president McGarvey.
In 2001, the MEA-MFT—representing 61 percent of the votes in the Montana AFL-CIO—threw its support behind Montana AFL-CIO president Jerry Driscoll in his bid to unseat long-time incumbent Executive Secretary Don Judge. McGarvey succeeded Driscoll as president.
In 2005, MEA-MFT organized the faculty at Montana Tech, the last major institution of higher education in the state without a union.
The same year, McGarvey challenged Driscoll for leadership of the Montana AFL-CIO. Driscoll's tenure had been a rocky one. He had called for discussions which could lead to enactment of a state sales tax, and he had pushed the Montana AFL-CIO board of directors to join the Western Environmental Trade Association, a pro-development coalition at odds with environmental groups. One union had already disaffiliated from the state federation, and two more were threatening to do so. With MEA-MFT's backing McGarvey easily won election. He subsequently retired as MEA-MFT vice president in May 2006. Larry Nielson was elected as his replacement.
In July 2006, Feaver was elected a vice president of the AFT. McGarvey had been a long-time AFT vice president as well as chair of the union's Federation of Public Employees division. Feaver's election by AFT delegates at the AFT's biennial convention continued to give MEA-MFT a voice in the national AFT.
MEA-MFT is one of the most prominent political and lobbying forces in the state. The union spent over $148,082 in lobbying expenses during the state's 90-day legislative session in 2006. The union spent more than PPL Montana (a power company; $146,494), the Montana Association of Realtors ($75,944), the Montana Association of Counties ($67,844), or the American Heart Association ($61,036).
- These include: H.B. 470 in 1991, which provided for hiring preference for teachers and classified employees in school annexations and consolidations; Constitutional Amendment 25 in 1993, which protected public employee pensions; and S.B. 15 in 1993, which prohibited impasse and mandated binding arbitration in all public school employee collective bargaining agreements. See "Chronology of the MEA-MFT Merger."
- In the Montana AFL-CIO, the Executive Secretary is the chief officer. The President is a secondary office.
- Anez, Bob. "Union Leads $4.7 Million Lobbying List." Associated Press. May 27, 2005.
- "Big Teacher Confab Opening Next Week." Associated Press. October 10, 1998.
- "Billings Man New Executive Secretary of Montana AFL-CIO." Associated Press. May 18, 2001.
- Dennison, Mike. "Driscoll Running Against Judge for AFL-CIO Post." Great Falls Tribune. May 8, 2001.
- "Montana Tech faculty votes for unionize." Associated Press. May 24, 2005.
- "State's Largest Union Backs McGarvey for AFL-CIO Post." Associated Press. May 8, 2005.
- "Teachers unions to become one in Montana." Associated Press. September 7, 1999.