The newly formed United Federation of Teachers was demanding collective bargaining rights and Superintendent of Schools John Theobald’s response was that he did not bargain with his own family.
Thus, the decision was made to go on strike on Nov. 7, 1960. The risks for the UFT were high — it was a tiny union that represented just a fraction of the city’s teachers. Most school employees crossed the picket lines. At best, 5,600 teachers, school secretaries, school counselors and social workers struck; another 2,000 called in sick. David Dubinsky, the president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, mediated a deal with Mayor Robert Wagner, and the UFT ended the strike after one day.
Wagner named a fact-finding panel consisting of local labor leaders to decide on collective bargaining for teachers. The union’s gutsy strike was just what was needed. When the dust cleared, the UFT had become the first teachers union in the nation to gain collective bargaining.