Have you ever heard of Lucille Swaim? Her fingerprints are on every contractual improvement in salary, benefits and working conditions that UFT members enjoy today. She coordinated negotiations for every contract — including the first comprehensive collective bargaining agreement covering teachers in the country — since shortly after the union’s founding in the early 1960s through the first decade of this century. Her story and the stories of scores of other women who helped build the UFT into the powerhouse it is today were celebrated at a Sunday brunch on March 25 at union headquarters in Manhattan. “Most rooms here at headquarters are named to memorialize men,” said UFT Vice President for Academic High Schools Janella Hinds, who organized the event with Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford. “So we have to make our voices heard and remember and celebrate the work of our founding sisters as part of Women’s History Month.” To that end, 100 participants joined in the celebration that included video tributes to women including Velma Hill, who organized paraprofessionals into today’s 24,000-member chapter, and Phyllis Wallach, who improved pensions as an early teacher trustee for the Teachers’ Retirement System. Esther Smith, a guidance counselor at MS 35 in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, said the event was not only educational but, “I enjoyed the sense of harmony, of being together and sharing ideas. It’s what’s needed to be strong together.” A score of today’s UFT women leaders spoke of their roles and how they got involved as activists, and then they led a discussion about taking the union forward. Raquel Duenas, a teacher at JHS 265 in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, said the UFT’s celebration of women “was such a great sharing experience that it inspired me to sign up for the UFT Spring Conference.” Twenty-five cosmetology students from Queens Vocational HS were on hand to give massages and manicures and apply make-up.
Saluting women who made the union a powerhouse
Related Topics: UFT History
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