News stories

Union founder Ray Frankel dies

Former high school teacher Ray Frankel served the union from its founding until she died on Feb. 23 at age 98.

Ray Frankel, a founding UFT member who continued to serve the union until the end of her life, died on Feb. 23 at the age of 98.

Frankel was the eldest of three daughters of International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union activists. Of her upbringing in a union family in pre-World War II New York City, Frankel would later recall, “In my milieu, you were either planning a strike, on strike or reminiscing about one.”

She became a high school history teacher and a member of the Teachers Guild, the UFT’s predecessor union, in 1953. She took up the cause of teacher unionism right away, distributing the Teachers Guild newspaper to her colleagues to “challenge the prevailing culture that said that unions and teachers didn’t mix,” she said.

Her gutsy determination and tough demeanor were in evidence back then. When the fledgling UFT voted to strike on Nov. 7, 1960, Frankel was one of only five teachers to walk the picket line at PS 165 on the Upper West Side. When she noticed some of her colleagues inside the school looking out the window in tears, “I told them to stop crying and come out,” she remembered.

After organizing her colleagues at PS 165, Frankel served as the chapter leader at the HS of Art and Design, where she was tenacious in recruiting new members and helping the union grow.

Her union work was her life and her true love.

“Ray was a very dedicated, very tough individual, and workers’ rights and unions were high among the beliefs she held very dear to her,” said her nephew, Lloyd Katz.

Frankel came to work at the UFT full time in 1973 and served on the UFT Executive Board from 1960 to 2013. As the longtime chair of the UFT Election Committee, Frankel shepherded the union through nearly six decades of elections.

As the UFT’s election coordinator in recent years, she continued to oversee interim functional chapter elections. She worked at the union’s headquarters until just a month before her 98th birthday in February 2019.

“She was extremely smart, and her knowledge about the UFT and its election system was invaluable,” said Yasmin Colon, the assistant director of the UFT Membership Department. “She chose to stay in the UFT as long as she did because it was her life’s purpose to nurture a cause she wholeheartedly believed in.”

She is survived by Lloyd Katz and her sister, Minnie Katz, who is 95.

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