Montana’s 2 largest public employee unions to merge in fight for middle class

(Stan Parker)

HELENA — Montana’s two largest public employee unions are moving closer to joining forces. On Jan. 20, members of MEA-MFT and the Montana Public Employees Association will gather in Helena’s Great Northern Hotel to ratify a proposed constitution and create the Montana Federation of Public Employees.

The newly formed union will represent a great variety of public employees, including teachers, state and county employees, health-care personnel and more.

Amanda Curtis, a math teacher in Butte and MEA-MFT state officer, says the merger is a win for Montana communities and the middle class.

“We’ll be looking at an organization that has about 24,000 members, which means that there basically won’t be a family in Montana that either doesn’t have a union member in it or is closely related to (or) knows someone who’s a union member,” she says.

MEA-MFT formed in 2000 when the Montana Education Association and the Montana Federation of Teachers merged. The history of MEA goes back to 1882 — seven years before Montana statehood — when frontier teachers decided to organize.

Quint Nyman is the executive director of the MPEA. He says the current merger is an opportunity for the two unions to have a more united front and a better seat at the negotiating table. That’s especially important as Montana grapples with its budget and national issues such as the tax bill recently passed in Congress.

He says MPEA union members are excited about joining with MEA-MFT and the strength it will provide to their members.

“And then, from the folks I know who are MEA-MFT members, they see the same thing coming from ours,” he says.

Curtis says this is the perfect time for a larger union because public employees are under attack from all directions. Most concerning is the case Janus versus AFSCME, which the Supreme Court will hear in February. She says if the court sides with Janus, it will hurt public-employee unions nationwide.

“We’re working really hard to have member-to-member conversations with everyone across the state who’s eligible for a union membership and make sure that they’re aware of what the union provides and fully invested in the labor movement going forward,” Curtis explains.