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10 years after

Our Point of View, by MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver

Jan-Feb 2010


It would be easy to write yet another dismal editorial about hard times, hard choices in government service and public schools...and what we propose to do about the shape of things to come.

But instead I have chosen herein to share a few hundred words about our union, MEA-MFT, 10 years after merger.

Yes, MEA-MFT is 10 years old this year and growing larger, stronger, ever more committed to our members and the work they do that matters. To check this out, visit

Frontier teachers and parents created the Montana Education Association (MEA) in 1882. Seven years before statehood. 128 years ago! We may be the oldest continuing organization of any kind in Montana.

Faculty at the University of Montana organized the first American Federation of Teachers (AFT) local in our state during World War One. Their effort died quickly, but not so long thereafter, teachers in Anaconda and Butte organized AFT locals in their communities.

In 1935, Butte teachers bargained our nation’s first ever public school employee negotiated agreement—40 years before the legislature adopted the Montana collective bargaining act!

So, we have indeed been around a bit—and we have operated on the cutting edge throughout our history.

In the last 35 years, MEA-MFT has organized thousands of
public and school employees into hundreds of bargaining units.
We are the largest union by far in Montana, better than 50 percent of the state AFL-CIO.

And we have helped preserve the right of all public and private sector workers to organize and bargain in the face of repeated assaults from the virulently anti-union right-to-work gang.

But we are not now nor have we ever been interested only in bargaining or lobbying for better salaries, health insurance, retirement, and working conditions.

For example:
We remain the largest private provider of teacher and para-educator professional development in Montana. We are the primary protector of state funded, teacher paid days dedicated to the same.

The board of public education will likely never adopt nor amend a rule pertaining to teacher licensure and school accreditation without our input.

The last three superintendents of public instruction have been MEA-MFT members. Not an accident, nor were their elections.
When anti-public school legislators attack, we stand unbending in defense and support of the board of public education and superintendent of public instruction.

We were named plaintiffs in two successful constitutional challenges to inequitable and inadequate state funding of k-12 public schools.

Without us, no full-time kindergarten, no quality educator payment, no loan repayment, and no Montana Virtual Academy.
Were it not for us, anti-public school legislators would have already privatized what we do through tax credits, pay vouchers, and charter schools.

We have earned the enmity of social Darwinists who would rip asunder the fabric of government service. Were it not for us almost any one of the virulent anti-government, anti-public school, anti-tax and spend ballot issues proposed in the last 25 years would have passed.

Without us, no inflation-adjusted Montana minimum wage, no prebudget state employee economic negotiations, no increase in state funding of the faculty optional retirement plan, no opportunity for correctional officers to join the game wardens’ retirement plan and thus be eligible for retirement after 20 years, no guaranteed annual benefit adjustment in retirement benefits for teachers and public employees, and no Work that Matters campaign.

So, please give thanks for two unions that merged for all the right reasons—and are proving it 10 years after.


For a brief history of MEA-MFT over the last 35 years or so, read this.

Read previous Points of View from President Feaver.