Florida Education Association (FEA) Trust & Transformation

Florida Education AssociationHow do you bridge a 30-year chasm of conflict between two competing organizations that merged in order to survive? In 2000, two Florida education unions affiliated with rival national unions (American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association) agreed to merge. The new merged organization represented more than 250,000 teachers and education staff professionals in Florida’s 67 school districts and over 100 union locals. The hope was that, as a single entity, FEA could represent its members and the children of Florida better. A six year transition agreement was established. Four years after the official merger, the integration process was not working. The promise and opportunities of the new organization were not being realized.

In 2004, the FEA president called us in. He was convinced that, unless something was done, the merger would collapse because of the unresolved conflicts between the two rival factions. He told us “We did not deal with the practicalities of integrating it.” He asked us to help bring together two distinctly different cultures and heal old conflicts, wounds, history, and polarized philosophies of doing business.

Over a period of 11 months, we worked with a newly-chartered FEA Futures Committee (65 key leaders representing both former unions) to address both underlying conflicts and fundamental organizational and strategic issues that had proved intractable in the past. The challenge was how to accomplish this in the course of one year with only four Friday evening-Saturday sessions, and one 2.5 day session with a cross-section of 65 people who had other full-time jobs and assignments and were geographically dispersed.

The results:

  • Merger process completed with integration into a single union. Behavior changed who’s side are you on and who has more influence in the organization to everyone consolidated and working together. People felt they had co-created the new organization.
  • 1000 delegates at the annual FEA Delegate Assembly approved changes to the union constitution by an 80% margin including strategic goals, budget, governance structure, and dues.
  • Agreement on a shared process to sustain organizational learning, including how to have difficult/important discussion and a way to come to resolution.

Today, five years out/later…

  • The union continues to be successful, working together, as a strong single voice, together with school districts to be an advocate for public education and ensure the forces that would weaken public education would not prevail
  • The work we did together created a firm foundation for the union to go ahead in a unified manner, giving an internal focus vs. external focus.

When the Futures Committee members were asked, “On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable are you that your opinions were considered in shaping the committee’s recommendation?” the average response was 9.3! This was a tremendous leap from an average response of 6.9, eleven months earlier to “How confident are you that we will carry out our commitments to each other.”