United Federation of Teachers

Alternative names
Dates:
Active 1985
Active 1987

History notes:

The United Federation of Teachers, Local 2 of the American Federation of Teachers, was formed by merger of the Teachers' Guild and the Committee for Action through Unity in June 1960.

From the description of Collection, 1968. (New York University, Group Batchload). WorldCat record id: 58657645

In 1985, George Altomare, a founder and Vice-President of the United Federation of Teachers as well as a history teacher, initiated an extensive oral history project to document the history of teacher collective bargaining in New York City.

New York City teachers first organized in 1912 with the publication of "The American Teacher". The editor, Henry Linville, founded the Teachers' Union, which in September 1916 affiliated with the recently-founded American Federation of Teachers. The TU undertook the struggle to gain recognition and decent working conditions for teachers. It campaigned for fair appointment procedures, an annual salary paid monthly, minimum wages with gradual increases above the cost of living, and a sabbatical leave.

In 1935, the Teachers' Union splintered over accusations of Communist Party domination. Rival factions disrupted meetings over political disputes and undermined the TU's unionist activities. That year, Linville and a majority of the Executive Board resigned and organized the Teachers' Guild. As one of its first acts the Guild created an unemployment committee to evaluate the Depression's impact on teachers. The committee found that one in nine teachers was employed. The teachers fought for reduced class size until 1960 when the United Federation of Teachers undertook the struggle.

The Guild also worked to achieve recognition as negotiators for teachers who had grievances against the Board of Education. Frustrated by the confusion of at least 12 different teacher associations during negotiations with the Board of Education, The Guild, along with the militant Committee for Action through Unity, and 1500 unaffiliated teachers, agreed to the terms of a merger. The new organization, the United Federation of Teachers, became Local 2 of the AFT. In 1961, the UFT won a collective bargaining election among 77% of the city's teachers who were eligible to vote.

The UFT initiated two more strikes in the 1960s, the first in 1962, and the next in 1967. It was also during this decade that the UFT membership grew to include nearly all the staff members of the education system. In 1972, it merged with its long-time rival, the New York State Teachers Association (NEA).

In 1964, Albert Shanker became president of the UFT. In 1972, he replaced Charles Cogan as president of the American Federation of Teachers while retaining his presidency at the UFT. He continued with both offices until Sandra Feldman was elected to the UFT presidency in 1986.

Throughout the 1970s, the UFT administered the QUEST program (Quality Education in the Standards of Teaching) and other similar voluntary training programs of all levels of teachers. They formulated curriculum guides and other teaching materials as well. In 1992, the UFT was the largest local in the world, with over 110,000 members.

From the description of Oral histories [sound recording], 1985-1987. (New York University). WorldCat record id: 477252533

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was founded in March 1960, in New York City. The UFT immediately began its campaign to gain collective bargaining rights and won a promise from the New York City School Board of a collective bargaining election in the 1960-1961 school year. When the Board failed to honor its pledge, a one-day work stoppage and broad support from other unions forced the issue. The election, in which the National Education Association (NEA) and the Teachers' Union stood in opposition to the UFT, was held in December 1961; the UFT won. Teachers swelled the ranks of the new union, and soon specialized chapters were created to accommodate other categories of school employee such as laboratory technicians, school secretaries, psychologists, guidance counselors, and para-professionals. When the UFT's president, Charles Cogen, was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), in 1964, he was succeeded by Albert Shanker, who served as president of the UFT from 1964 until 1986. Albert Shanker's tenure coincided with one of the most challenging eras in the history of New York City schools, a time characterized by rapidly changing demographics, racial conflict, and new demands from parents and community-based groups, overcrowded and dilapidated buildings, teacher shortages and citywide fiscal crises.

By the mid-1960s the UFT had more than 50,000 members and was the largest local union in the AFL-CIO. The union responded to changing conditions in the schools by backing the More Effective Schools (MES) program, aimed at improving teaching methods in ghetto schools, and other innovative programs. But by September 1967, when contract negotiations with the Board of Education broke down, the UFT teachers were driven to strike to achieve an increase in wages and benefits. In the wake of the strike the union was fined and Albert Shanker sentenced to fifteen days in prison for violation of New York State's "Taylor Law," which bans strikes by public employees. Earlier in the year the city had agreed to implement a school decentralization plan in exchange for increased state funding. The plan, which created three experimental school districts in East Harlem, the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Ocean Hill-Brownsville in Brooklyn, was greeted with enthusiasm by African-American and Latino parents who hoped for a greater voice in their children's education. The UFT, on the other hand, feared that community control of schools would undermine teachers' hard-won rights and weaken the union's bargaining power. Bitter conflict ensued, resulting first in a walk-out by 350 teachers in Ocean Hill-Brownsville in May of 1968, and, in September 1968, a citywide teachers strike. Albert Shanker was again sentenced to jail for 15 days for defying a court order to end the strike. An uneasy settlement, involving a state-appointed trustee in Ocean Hill-Brownsville and reinstatement of displaced teachers, left a legacy of distrust between the union and some community activists and scarred race relations in the city for many years.

In 1972 Shanker was a central figure in negotiating the merger of the AFT and the National Education Association (NEA) in New York State. The resulting organization, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), brought more than 100,000 upstate teachers into the labor movement and was a rare example of close and amicable cooperation between the two major national organizations representing teachers. In 1974 Shanker was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers. Retaining his position as UFT president for some years, he went on to play a key role in re-establishing New York City's financial stability after the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s. He was succeeded as president of the UFT by Sandra Feldman in 1986, and died in 1997 after a long struggle with cancer.

The UFT had its origins in the Teachers' Union (TU) of New York City, and the Teachers' Guild. The Teachers' Union was organized in 1916 and chartered as Local 5 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). A growing political struggle within its ranks between a left-wing dominated by members of the Communist Party and their sympathizers, and a more moderate group consisting of Socialists, liberals and less ideologically-inclined teachers resulted in a split in 1935, when the TU's president, a moderate, withdrew with a majority of the membership to found the Teachers' Guild. In 1941 the AFT revoked the Teachers' Union's charter. In the succeeding years the TU was weakened by McCarthy-era persecution and the increasingly successful organizing efforts of the rival Teachers Guild (and later the United Federation of Teachers). It went out of existence in 1964.

The Teachers' Guild, born in 1941, when it won recognition by the American Federation of Teachers, addressed the problems of a fragmented workforce divided into small teachers' organizations representing a multitude of ethnic and religious groups, geographical areas and distinct school levels (elementary, junior high school and high school), and began the long struggle for collective bargaining rights in the New York City school system. A job action initiated by militant leaders of the High School Teachers Association (HSTA) in 1959, gave the Guild an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to building solidarity among all categories of teachers. David Selden, then the Guild's only full-time organizer (and later president of the American Federation of Teachers), enlisted the help of younger Guild Board members such as junior high-school teachers George Altomare and Albert Shanker. After month-long picket lines at schools across the city, substantial gains were won by the high-school teachers, and bridges had been built which would eventually lead toward merger between the Guild and the HSTA. That merger was effected in March 1960, with Guild president Charles Cogen taking over as president of the newly-formed United Federation of Teachers.

From the guide to the United Federation of Teachers Photographs, Part II: Hans Weissenstein Negatives Collection, Bulk, 1970-1974, 1949-1977, (Bulk 1970-1974), (Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives)

The Teachers' Union (TU) of New York City was organized in 1916 and chartered as Local 5 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Although constrained by the AFT's no-strike pledge, laws against strikes by public employees, the authoritarian and paternalistic policies of the Board of Education, and the resistance of many teachers to trade-union appeals, the Teacher' Union soon won a reputation for militancy. The Teachers' Union not only addressed the bread and butter issues of salaries, pensions and working conditions, but defended pacifist teachers against dismissal during World War I, and opposed loyalty oaths and other assaults on academic freedom in the 1920s and 30s.

Although the TU had organized a substantial number of the City's teachers by the early 1930s, its efforts were undermined by a growing political struggle within its ranks between a left wing dominated by Communist Party members and their sympathizers, and a more moderate group consisting of socialists, liberals and less ideologically inclined teachers. In 1935 the factional conflict came to a head, and TU president Henry Linville, a moderate, withdrew with a majority of the membership to found the Teachers Guild. The TU continued to fend off attacks on its left-wing politics, culminating in a 1940 investigation by New York's Rapp-Coudert Committee, which declared Communist Party membership sufficient grounds for dismissal from the public school system. In 1941 the AFT revoked the Teachers' Union's charter. The Teachers' Union subsequently affiliated with the United Public Workers of America, which in turn was expelled from the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) as a Communist-dominated organization. The TU, weakened by McCarthy-era persecution and the increasingly successful organizing efforts of the rival Teachers Guild (and later the United Federation of Teachers), went out of existence in 1964.

The Teachers Guild, born in the political turmoil of the mid-1930s, addressed the problems of a fragmented workforce, divided into small teachers' organizations representing a multitude of ethnic and religious groups, geographical areas and distinct school levels (elementary, junior high school and high school). To make matters worse, any gains wrung from the Board of Education by teachers' representatives were not legally binding; the unions were often dragged into lengthy court proceedings and lobbying campaigns. In 1941 the Guild, recognized by the American Federation of Teachers, began the long struggle for collective bargaining rights in the New York City school system. A job action initiated by militant leaders of the High School Teachers Association (HSTA) in 1959, gave the Guild an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to building solidarity among all categories of teachers. David Selden, then the Guild's only full-time organizer (and later president of the American Federation of Teachers), enlisted the help of younger Guild Board members such as junior high-school teachers George Altomare and Albert Shanker. After month-long picket lines at schools across the city, substantial gains were won by the high-school teachers, and bridges had been built which would eventually lead toward merger between the Guild and the HSTA. That merger was effected in March 1960, with Guild president Charles Cogen taking over as president of the newly-formed United Federation of Teachers. Samuel Hochberg of the HSTA became deputy president.

The UFT immediately began its campaign to gain collective bargaining rights, and through talks with Mayor Robert F. Wagner, School Superintendent John J. Theobald, Board of Education president Charles H. Silver, Central Labor Council president Harry Van Arsdale, Jr. and other city labor leaders, won a promise of a collective bargaining election in the 1960-1961 school year. When the Board failed to honor its pledge, a one-day work stoppage and broad support from other unions forced the issue. The election, in which the National Education Association (NEA) and the Teachers' Union stood in opposition to the UFT, was held in December 1961. The UFT emerged victorious as the official representative of the City's teachers, winning almost two-thirds of the votes cast. In 1962 bitter contract negotiations with the Board led to a one-day strike supported by 22,000 teachers; this figure represented 52% of the total and considerably more than the 15,000 who were Guild members.

The UFT's first contract, signed in June 1962, included a $1,000 raise, improved grievance procedures, sick leave, sabbatical leave, and compensation for job-related injuries. Teachers responded by swelling the ranks of the new union, and soon specialized chapters were created to accommodate other categories of school employees (for example, laboratory technicians, school secretaries, psychologists, guidance counselors, and para-professionals) who became part of the UFT. When Charles Cogen was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), in 1964, he was succeeded by Albert Shanker, who served as president of the UFT from 1964 until 1986.

Albert Shanker was born in New York City in 1928 and educated in the city's public schools and at the University of Illinois and Columbia University. Beginning in 1952 he taught mathematics at Junior High School 126 in Queens and later at JHS 88 in Harlem. As an active member of the Teachers Guild he was instrumental in the merger of unions that created the United Federation of Teachers in 1959-60. After serving as a UFT field representative, editor of the UFT newspaper and UFT secretary, he was elected president of the union in 1964. Albert Shanker's tenure coincided with some of the most challenging times for New York City schools, in an era characterized by rapidly changing demographics, racial conflict, new demands from parents and community-based groups, overcrowded and dilapidated buildings, teacher shortages and citywide fiscal crises.

By the mid-1960s the UFT had more than 50,000 members and was the largest local union in the AFL-CIO. The union responded to changing conditions in the schools by backing the More Effective Schools program, aimed at improving teaching methods in ghetto schools, and other innovative programs. But by September 1967, when contract negotiations with the Board of Education broke down, the teachers were driven to strike to achieve an increase in wages and benefits. In the wake of the strike the union was fined and Shanker sentenced to fifteen days in prison for violation of the state's Taylor Law, banning strikes by public employees. Earlier in the year the city had agreed to implement a school decentralization plan in exchange for increased state funding. The plan, which created three experimental school districts in East Harlem, the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Ocean Hill-Brownsville in Brooklyn, was greeted with enthusiasm by African-American and Latino parents who hoped for a greater voice in their children's education. The Board of Education, on the other hand, was suspicious of what it viewed as an attempt to dilute its authority over the schools; and the UFT feared that community control of schools would undermine teachers' hard-won rights and weaken the union's bargaining power. Bitter head-to-head conflict ensued, resulting first in a walk-out of 350 teachers in Ocean Hill-Brownsville and, in September 1968, a highly effective citywide teachers strike. An uneasy settlement, involving a state-appointed trustee in Ocean Hill-Brownsville and reinstatement of displaced teachers, left a legacy of distrust between the union and some community activists and scarred race relations in the city for many years. Shanker, again sentenced to jail for leading the strike, was lionized by many union members and reviled by political opponents as a power-mad opponent of community rights. In succeeding years he greatly expanded the UFT's membership base to include paraprofessionals, school secretaries and other categories of school employees; and he presided over substantial improvements in the union's benefits package.

In 1972 Albert Shanker was a central figure in negotiating the merger of the AFT and the National Education Association (NEA) in New York State. The resulting organization, New York State United Teachers, brought more than 100,000 upstate teachers into the labor movement and was rare example of close and amicable cooperation between the two major national organizations representing teachers. Shanker later became the first teacher to sit on the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO. In 1974 he was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers. Retaining his position as UFT president for some years, Shanker went on to play a key role in re-establishing the city's fiscal stability after the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s, and became a staunch opponent of school vouchers, privatization and other measures likely to weaken public education. He was succeeded as president of the UFT by Sandra Feldman in 1986, and died after a long struggle with cancer in 1997.

Sources:

Brooks, Thomas R., Towards Dignity: A Brief History of the United Federation of Teachers.New York: UFT, 1967. Robert J. Braun, Teachers and Power: The Story of the American Federation of Teachers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972 Vincent J. Cannato, The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York. New York: Basic Books, 2001. Stephen Cole, The Unionization of Teachers.New York: Praeger, 1969. Demas, Bouton H., The School Elections: A Critique of the 1969 New York City School Decentralization Law. New York: Institute for Community Studies, 1971. Edgell, Derek, The Movement for Community Control of New York City’s Schools, 1966-1970.Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1998. Freeman, Joshua B., Working-Class New York: Life and Labor since World War II. New York: The New Press, 2000. Maier, Mark H., City Unions: Managing Discontent in New York City. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987. Marjorie Murphy, Blackboard Unions: The AFT and the NEA, 1900-1990. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990. Jerald E. Podair, The Strike that Changed New York: Blacks, Whites and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. [Includes an extensive bibliography on decentralization, community control, Ocean Hill-Brownsville and the 1968-69 teachers’ strike.] Diane Ravitch, The Great School Wars – New York, 1805-1973: A History of the Public Schools as Battleground of Social Change. New York: Basic Books, 1974. David Rogers, 110 Livingston Street: Politics and Bureaucracy in the New York City School Sy stem. New York: Random House, 1968. Jack Schierenbeck, Union Made a World of Difference: Reflections on the “Revolution” at 40. New York: United Federation of Teachers, 2000. Philip Taft, United They Teach: The Story of the United Federation of Teachers. Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1974. Celia Lewis Zitron, The New York City Teachers Union, 1916-1964: A Story of Educational and Social Commitment.New York: Humanities Press, 1968.

From the guide to the United Federation of Teachers Records, Bulk, 1960-1985, 1916-2002, (Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives)

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) was formed in March 1960. The UFT immediately began its campaign to gain collective bargaining rights and won a promise from the New York City School Board of a collective bargaining election in the 1960-1961 school year. When the Board failed to honor its pledge, a one-day work stoppage and broad support from other unions forced the issue. The election, in which the National Education Association (NEA) and the Teachers' Union stood in opposition to the UFT, was held in December 1961; the UFT won. Teachers swelled the ranks of the new union, and soon specialized chapters were created to accommodate other categories of school employees (for example, laboratory technicians, school secretaries, psychologists, guidance counselors, and para-professionals) who became part of the UFT. When UFT's president, Charles Cogen, was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), in 1964, he was succeeded by Albert Shanker, who served as president of the UFT from 1964 until 1986. Albert Shanker's tenure coincided with some of the most challenging times for New York City schools, in an era characterized by rapidly changing demographics, racial conflict, demands from parents and community-based groups, overcrowded and dilapidated buildings, teacher shortages and citywide fiscal crises.

By the mid-1960s the UFT had more than 50,000 members and was the largest local union in the AFL-CIO. The union responded to changing conditions in the schools by backing the More Effective Schools program, aimed at improving teaching methods in underachieving schools, and other innovative programs. But by September 1967, when contract negotiations with the Board of Education broke down, the teachers were driven to strike to achieve an increase in wages and benefits. In the wake of the strike the union was fined and Shanker sentenced to fifteen days in prison for violation of the state's Taylor Law, banning strikes by public employees. Earlier in the year the city had agreed to implement a school decentralization plan in exchange for increased state funding. The plan, which created three experimental school districts in East Harlem, the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Ocean Hill-Brownsville in Brooklyn, was greeted with enthusiasm by African-American and Latino parents who hoped for a greater voice in their children's education. The UFT, on the other hand, feared that community control of schools would undermine teachers' hard-won rights and weaken the union's bargaining power. Bitter conflict ensued, resulting first in a walk-out of 350 teachers in Ocean Hill-Brownsville and, in September 1968, a citywide teachers strike. Albert Shanker was again sentenced to jail for leading the strike. An uneasy settlement, involving a state-appointed trustee in Ocean Hill-Brownsville and reinstatement of displaced teachers, left a legacy of distrust between the union and some community activists and scarred race relations in the city for many years.

In 1972 Shanker was a central figure in negotiating the merger of the AFT and the National Education Association (NEA) in New York State. The resulting organization, New York State United Teachers, brought more than 100,000 upstate teachers into the labor movement and was a rare example of close and amicable cooperation between the two major national organizations representing teachers. In 1974 Shanker was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers. Retaining his position as UFT president for some years, he went on to play a key role in re-establishing the city's fiscal stability after the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s. He was succeeded as president of the UFT by Sandra Feldman in 1986, and died after a long struggle with cancer in 1997.

The UFT had its origins in the Teachers' Union (TU) of New York City, and the Teachers' Guild. The Teachers' Union was organized in 1916 and chartered as Local 5 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). A growing political struggle within its ranks between a left wing dominated by Communist Party members and their sympathizers, and a more moderate group consisting of socialists, liberals and less ideologically inclined teachers resulted in a split in 1935, when its president, a moderate, withdrew with a majority of the membership to found the Teachers Guild. In 1941 the AFT revoked the Teachers' Union's charter. Over a number of years the TU was weakened by McCarthy-era persecution and the increasingly successful organizing efforts of the rival Teachers Guild (and later the United Federation of Teachers). It went out of existence in 1964.

The Teachers Guild, born in 1941, when it won recognition by the American Federation of Teachers, addressed the problems of a fragmented workforce, divided into small teachers' organizations representing a multitude of ethnic and religious groups, geographical areas and distinct school levels (elementary, junior high school and high school), and began the long struggle for collective bargaining rights in the New York City school system. A job action initiated by militant leaders of the High School Teachers Association (HSTA) in 1959, gave the Guild an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to building solidarity among all categories of teachers. David Selden, then the Guild's only full-time organizer (and later president of the American Federation of Teachers), enlisted the help of younger Guild Board members such as junior high-school teachers George Altomare and Albert Shanker. After month-long picket lines at schools across the city, substantial gains were won by the high-school teachers, and bridges had been built which would eventually lead toward merger between the Guild and the HSTA. That merger was effected in March 1960, with Guild president Charles Cogen taking over as president of the newly-formed United Federation of Teachers.

From the guide to the United Federation of Teachers Photographs, Part I: Photographic Prints, Bulk, 1970-1979, 1928-1987, (Bulk 1970s), (Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives)

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Subjects:

  • Strikes and lockouts--Teachers
  • Schools--New York (State)--New York
  • Teachers--New York (State)--New York
  • Teachers--Interviews
  • Schools
  • Teachers' unions--Officials and employees--Interviews
  • Teachers' unions

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  • New York (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • New York (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)
  • New York (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • New York (N.Y.) (as recorded)
  • New York (State) (as recorded)