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Our history

Dignity and respect. Professionalism and due process. Competitive wages and benefits.

Fifty years ago, those things didn’t exist for teachers in New York City’s public schools. The system’s structure and support were haphazard at best, and concepts such as class-size limits and career ladders were only pipe dreams.

A patchwork of more than 100 different and often competing organizations were available for educators to join, but there was no one true voice and advocate for students and teachers.

That all changed, thanks to the grit and determination of a small group of visionaries who believed that educators and their students were being shortchanged and did something about it. Together, they created the UFT.

March 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of the union’s formation, the beginning of its remarkable growth and extraordinary power and influence. Those 50 years of triumphs and advocacy have strengthened the education profession and New York City public schools.

"From the beginning, UFT members have been making positive contributions to this city," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. "We’ve moved the system forward during good times and bad. The profession has come so far in 50 years, and it’s important for people to know about that journey."

United Federation of Teachers: 50 Years

View or download a PDF version of the limited edition book produced for the UFT's 50th anniversary in 2010. [This image-heavy file is relatively large (21 MB).]

United Federation of Teachers: 50 Years - cover

See the UFT Story

Reflections on 9/11

UFT members work every day to make a difference in people's lives. On September 11, 2001, in the face of horror and uncertainty, we were there to make a crucial and, in many cases, a life-saving difference. Teachers, nurses, guidance counselors, paraprofessionals and others led their charges out of danger, made sure students across the city were cared for while communication and transportation systems were frozen, and calmed the fears of hundreds of thousands of other children. They set a shining example of courage and inspiration.

This feature is filled with a few of the many heartfelt stories that we have gathered from members about that horrendous day and its aftermath. They reflect the best in all of us.

Read the reflections of UFT members, 10 years after 9/11 »

History in Photos

UFT and the civil rights movement

Sensing in the civil rights movement a natural ally with shared goals and values, the early leaders of the UFT and its predecessor, the Teachers Guild, threw their support behind the movement and its objectives of racial equality and individual dignity, and forged a strong alliance with black leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. UFT President Al Shanker encouraged New York City schoolteachers to attend the 1964 March for Jobs and Freedom co-organized by Rustin, and the union subsidized travel to the march for participating UFT members.

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History

In addition to building a labor-civil rights coalition, the UFT leadership sought to strengthen bonds with a broad range of like-minded progressive movements, such as Cesar Chavez’s movement to organize migrant farm workers. Above: Chavez and Shanker at a benefit concert for the United Farmworkers in New York City in May 1976. Susan Saltman, photographer. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 10

UFT President Charles Cogen (left) along with UFT Assistant Treasurer Richard Parrish demonstrate against Woolworth's discriminatory policies in 1960. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 9

On March 14, 1964, the UFT presented its prestigious Dewey Award to Martin Luther King Jr. In his acceptance speech, King proclaimed that “education for all Americans, white and Negro, has always been inadequate, the richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough of its abundant resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige their work justifies.” Here King listens while UFT Vice President George Altomare speaks. Credit: Whitestone Photo, Heinz Weissenstein, photographer. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 7

George Meaney, the powerful AFL-CIO president, opposed labor support for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom due to a general distaste for protest marches. In favor were UAW President Walter Reuther and UFT President Al Shanker.  (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 8

In response to the infamous incident known as Bloody Sunday, in which peaceful protesters outside Selma, Alabama, were violently beaten while crossing Edmund Pettus bridge, Al Shanker presented King with five station wagons donated by the teachers of New York City to help transport intimidated rural voters to registration centers. Shanker and other UFT officials later joined King in a protest march from Selma to Montgomery. Above: Shanker presents a check to King in a special reception hosted by the Central Labor Council in New York City, March 30, 1963. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 4

A Quaker and pacifist, Bayard Rustin introduced King to Gandhi’s principles of non-violent resistance and co-organized the March on Washington. Meeting through mutual friend Max Schachtman, Rustin and Shanker became life-long friends and allies. Above: with Shanker pushing through crowd at City Hall rally, September 1968. Sam Reiss, photographer. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 5

A. Philip Randolph was the founder and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and co-organizer of the March on Washington. With Shanker’s help he founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute to promote and strengthen the labor-Civil Rights coalition. He is here pictured marching in a picket line of teachers alongside Al Shanker during the Mass Resignation Rally, 1967. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 2

A protégé of Bayard Rustin and active in Civil Rights and socialist circles, future UFT President Sandy Feldman was hired by Al Shanker in 1966 as a grievance administrator. As a member of the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE) she participated in the Freedom Rides and was arrested for desegregating Howard Johnson restaurants along Maryland’s Route 40 (shown above). (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 3

UFT President Al Shanker with Bayard Rustin (center) and A. Philip Randolph in May 1966. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University )

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History

In addition to building a labor-civil rights coalition, the UFT leadership sought to strengthen bonds with a broad range of like-minded progressive movements, such as Cesar Chavez’s movement to organize migrant farm workers. Above: Chavez and Shanker at a benefit concert for the United Farmworkers in New York City in May 1976. Susan Saltman, photographer. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

Image
Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 10

UFT President Charles Cogen (left) along with UFT Assistant Treasurer Richard Parrish demonstrate against Woolworth's discriminatory policies in 1960. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 9

On March 14, 1964, the UFT presented its prestigious Dewey Award to Martin Luther King Jr. In his acceptance speech, King proclaimed that “education for all Americans, white and Negro, has always been inadequate, the richest nation on Earth has never allocated enough of its abundant resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige their work justifies.” Here King listens while UFT Vice President George Altomare speaks. Credit: Whitestone Photo, Heinz Weissenstein, photographer. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

Image
Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 7

George Meaney, the powerful AFL-CIO president, opposed labor support for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom due to a general distaste for protest marches. In favor were UAW President Walter Reuther and UFT President Al Shanker.  (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

Image
Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 8

In response to the infamous incident known as Bloody Sunday, in which peaceful protesters outside Selma, Alabama, were violently beaten while crossing Edmund Pettus bridge, Al Shanker presented King with five station wagons donated by the teachers of New York City to help transport intimidated rural voters to registration centers. Shanker and other UFT officials later joined King in a protest march from Selma to Montgomery. Above: Shanker presents a check to King in a special reception hosted by the Central Labor Council in New York City, March 30, 1963. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 4

A Quaker and pacifist, Bayard Rustin introduced King to Gandhi’s principles of non-violent resistance and co-organized the March on Washington. Meeting through mutual friend Max Schachtman, Rustin and Shanker became life-long friends and allies. Above: with Shanker pushing through crowd at City Hall rally, September 1968. Sam Reiss, photographer. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

Image
Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 5

A. Philip Randolph was the founder and president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and co-organizer of the March on Washington. With Shanker’s help he founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute to promote and strengthen the labor-Civil Rights coalition. He is here pictured marching in a picket line of teachers alongside Al Shanker during the Mass Resignation Rally, 1967. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

Image
Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 2

A protégé of Bayard Rustin and active in Civil Rights and socialist circles, future UFT President Sandy Feldman was hired by Al Shanker in 1966 as a grievance administrator. As a member of the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE) she participated in the Freedom Rides and was arrested for desegregating Howard Johnson restaurants along Maryland’s Route 40 (shown above). (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University)

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Civil Rights Movement - UFT History 3

UFT President Al Shanker with Bayard Rustin (center) and A. Philip Randolph in May 1966. (UFT Photo Collection, Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University )

History Makers

Profiles of prominent union leaders and members.

Albert Shanker giving a speech at a podium with a microphone
Albert Shanker