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Today's history lesson

March 16, 1960: The UFT is founded

New York Teacher
Teachers rally for contract

UFT members picket during the fight for their first contract, the first battle the new UFT faced.

Al Shanker at Delegate Assembly

Former UFT President Albert Shanker joins the applause at an early Delegate Assembly meeting.

At the old Astor Hotel on Broadway and 44th Street, the Teachers Guild and the High School Teachers Association merged on March 16, 1960, to form the United Federation of Teachers, Local 2 of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO.

Underpaid and overworked teachers, with miserable working conditions and overbearing supervisors, needed the protection of a strong, united union before 1960. But many issues dividing teachers stood in the way.

Charles Cogen at Guild Rally

Charles Cogen (right), who became the UFT’s first president, leads members of the Teachers Guild at a rally prior to the merger that formed the UFT.

In 1935, infighting among several leftist factions in the Teachers Union, the city's first union of teachers, led many members to defect to form the Teachers Guild. Then in 1947, incensed high school teachers left the Guild for the High School Teachers Association when the state Legislature imposed a single salary scale. Until then, high school teachers had been paid more than their elementary school counterparts because they were required to have a master's degree and to pass special licensing exams. Lurking in the background was also the notion that it was easier to teach younger children, creating more division among the teachers.

A pro-merger group, the Committee for Action through Unity, worked in secret to unite the Teachers Guild and the High School Teachers Association. It devised a plan for a "promotional increment" that would entitle all teachers with a master's or its equivalent to more money, bridging the biggest divide between them and opening the door to solidarity.

From that merger the UFT was born 60 years ago.