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George Altomare

George Altomare

George Altomare

George Altomare began his teaching career in 1953 as a social studies teacher at Astoria JHS. Frustrated by the poor pay and abysmal working conditions at the school, he and his school colleague, Albert Shanker, invited the Teachers Guild to meet with the educators.

Altomare, as a secondary school teacher, was able to recruit high school teachers, who were better paid at that time, into the elementary school-dominated Teachers Guild, to create the UFT in 1960.

"His ability to get people to work with each other, for each other and in order to gain the same goals was great. His energy was great, too — he devoted all his after-school time to this," said former union treasurer Mel Aaronson, also a UFT founder. "Without George, there would be no UFT."

Union founder George Altomare dies

George Altomare leads the audience in a round of “Solidarity Together” at the end of one of the union’s annual Spring Education Conferences.

Altomare held both advisory and elected positions for the union over the decades. He created and led the UFT Strike Committee and Organizing Network, which led to successful strikes in the 1960s and '70s. He served as the union's vice president for high schools for 25 years, and he helped negotiate DOE-UFT contracts through 1985.

The borough representative, district representative and chapter leader system the UFT uses today were ideas Altomare came up with. He was "meticulous" in his organizing, using a Delaney card system to record information for every school, Aaronson recalled.

Altomare also worked extensively to support other unions. In the 1960s, he went to jail for civil disobedience with United Farm Workers leaders César Chavez and Dolores Huerta after a union protest.

George with Cesar Chavez

George with United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez (at left).

He helped found the UFT Retired Teachers Chapter and served for many years as the chapter's secretary. He also helped create the union's professional committees, which he led until 2019.

Together with Peter Yarrow of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, Altomare started a school anti-bullying initiative.

In addition to his devotion to the UFT and the labor movement, Altomare loved music and playing the guitar.

"He was our historian, our elder statesman and our union troubadour," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. "At union meetings over the decades, we could count on George to pull out his guitar and lead us in singing 'Solidarity Forever.'"