In a nearly unanimous vote Saturday afternoon, delegates from two of Montana's public worker unions voted to combine into a single entity. 

The Montana Public Employees Association (MPEA) will merge with the MEA-MFT (Montana Educators Association-Montana Federation of Teachers) to become the Montana Federation of Public Employees (MFPE).

Eric Feaver, president of the MEA-MFT, said the merger would make the MFPE by far the largest union in the state with a membership numbering between 24,000-25,000 state employees. Probation and parole officers, faculty members, teachers, Montana Highway Patrol employees and police department workers will all part of the MFPE.

Unions are built to protect salaries and professional interests of union members, and collectively bargain for labor. Feaver knows that the increased size of the union makes providing for its members easier, an important power to have as Montana potentially moves in the direction of being a right-to-work state.

“The impact won’t be immediately felt,” Feaver said, though “it will resonate with a wide range of state employees."

The next steps for the merged unions are to complete the administrative tasks of a coalescing: informing members, defining dues, choosing a building, and educating members to make sure the new union is properly situated for future growth. A constitution has been written, but more remains to be done, including working to unionize state government offices that have not yet been unionized, like the Secretary of State and State Auditor’s offices.

For Helena, this means a huge swath of the population will be represented by a single union in a major consolidation of political power, or what Feaver likes to call “density.”

“It’s going to be a good thing,”Feaver said.

Quinton Nyman, executive director of MPEA, sees the combination of the unions as a way to streamline internal organization. 

“It’s a positive move for our members,” Nyman said. “We’ve operated side by side for decades … duplicating services for years."

But now that both unions are together, he said, that reorganization allows for unification and more political density.

“This is where the work really starts.”