Hundreds of UFT members watched as the names of six lifelong unionists joined those of other UFT giants on the Wall of Honor in the lobby of union headquarters in Manhattan on Nov. 18. The crowd overflowed into Shanker Hall to watch a livestream of the unveiling on an evening of mutual respect, solidarity and union pride.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew praised Carmen Alvarez, the first vice president for special education, for serving more than 30 years in that role and for being a “fierce advocate” for children with disabilities. Alvarez, who spearheaded the Positive Learning Collaborative, said having her name on the wall “is a powerful acknowledgment of my contribution to the union.”
The late Bob Astrowksy, a former assistant secretary, served the union in many capacities for more than 50 years. He was an empathetic school counselor, a skilled negotiator and a union activist, campaigning in and out of New York City. “Bob Astrowsky was synonymous with service,” Mulgrew said. Yvette Geary accepted her husband’s award and said “his spirit will be in this building for as long as” the building is here.
Mulgrew said he wouldn’t be where he is today if Frank Carucci were not his mentor. Carucci, who preceded Mulgrew as vice president for career and technical education, helped transform CTE in the city and was its champion, Mulgrew said, even as some sought to dismantle the valuable program. Carucci also introduced thousands of students to theater and theater arts. “Every day, I had the most fabulous, satisfying career,” Carucci said.
From Leo Hoenig’s “earliest days as a teacher in 1958, two years before the 1960 strike, he was always a staunch unionist,” Mulgrew said. Hoenig described being “bombarded” with literature as a young teacher but said a brochure from the Teachers Guild — the UFT’s predecessor — “fascinated” him. “The rest is history,” said Hoenig, who became a founding UFT member. He still attends the monthly Delegate Assembly and is active in the Retired Teachers Chapter.
Sandra March, a former Teachers’ Retirement System trustee, helped design the template for the union’s political action program and has advocated to protect the pensions of legions of UFT members. Mulgrew called her a “legend” in District 26 in Queens, where she started as an elementary school teacher. “For 40 years, I have worked for this union,” March said. “I have never come to work one day not wanting to be here.”
Shelvy Young-Abrams is a founding member of the Paraprofessionals Chapter, now in its 50th year. Under her leadership as only the third chapter chair, it has grown from 18,000 to more than 28,000 members. She is “laser-focused on signing up new hires,” Mulgrew said. Young-Abrams said, “I want to leave a legacy that I’ve done all I could for the chapter, and it’s all because of the love I have for the union and the paraprofessionals.”
The redesigned Wall of Honor features photographs documenting UFT milestones, from the 1963 March on Washington to the successful 2018 paid parental leave campaign.
Said Alvarez, “It’s very profound for me to know my name is indelibly etched in the history of the UFT.”