The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is the largest labor union representing teachers in New York City. The UFT currently has over 200,000 members. Those members include teachers, classroom paraprofessionals, school secretaries, attendance teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, adult education teachers, administrative law judges, nurses, laboratory technicians, speech therapists, as well as retired members. The United Federation of Teachers is a local union branched from the American Federation of Teachers. They are also affiliated with the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT).
Two other unions for New York City school teachers had been formed in the early 1900’s, but had failed to gather adequate membership or support. These failures eventually led to the development of the United Federation of Teachers. The UFT was founded on March 16, 1960 primarily as a response to the system’s treatment of teachers. Teachers believed that they were being treated unfairly in several areas. They organized with some major objectives and plans to change the way teachers in New York City were treated. Some of their grievances included:
- Pensions were only given to teachers over 65 years of age or with 35 years of service.
- Teachers were able to be terminated with no oversight or due process.
- Female teachers who had a child faced a mandatory two year leave without pay.
- Teachers were poorly paid, receiving a salary of approximately $70 per week.
In November 1960 the UFT organized their first major strike. Although the strike failed to accomplish many of their main goals, they were able to sustain some small victories and most importantly it brought the UFT notoriety and attention. In 1961, the UFT became the collective bargaining voice for all teachers in New York City.
The first president of the UFT was Charlie Cogen. His term, although relatively short, laid the ground work for the organization and those that came after him. The second and perhaps the most successful and influential president of the UFT was Albert Shanker. Shanker was president from 1964-1974 and left his stamp on teacher rights like none before or after him. He was passionate about his cause and often seen as militant. He was arrested two times during his term as president protesting for teacher related issues such as reduced class size. Many of his values and ideals on educations are still impacting American education on a national level today. In all there have only been five presidents of the UFT. This speaks to the organization’s stability and ability to maintain. Today, Michael Mulgrew is president of the UFT. He was elected in April 2010 and continues on the tradition of transforming education in New York City.
Issues and Support
There will always be ways to improve the quality of education in the United States. The UFT has fought for and won many teacher and education related issues and rights throughout their 50+ year history. However, there will always be new battles to be waged by the UFT and like labor unions. Some of the current issues that the UFT is fighting include:
- Charter Schools – Al Shanker and the UFT originally support charter schools and still do as they were originally designed. However they adamantly oppose the corporate elements that invaded charter schools today. They believe their primary goal is to privatize public education and to destroy the power of the union.
- Supporting Struggling Schools – The UFT believes that the New York Department of Education does not have strategies to help struggling schools or low performing students. Their mission is to support those schools and students in any way possible.
- Teacher Data Reports – The UFT does not believe that teacher data reports based on standardized test scores should be made public. The have halted that release with a law suit and continue to fight against this practice.
- Teacher Evaluation – The UFT believes that teacher evaluations should be done collaboratively through a process of looking at student work, improving lessons, and promoting best instructional practices. They extensively oppose that an evaluation be based on student test scores alone.
Membership & Benefits
Membership dues are automatically withheld from paychecks. Whether you choose to become a member or not, you will have dues taken out because the UFT is the collective bargaining agent for teachers. Dues do change as a result of salary changes. They are currently set to .85 of one percent of the maximum contractual salary of your title at Step 8B plus longevity. You also have amounts added for the union’s state and national affiliates.
Benefits include contract negotiation representation, health benefits, pension, several additional help programs, as well as a variety of local discounts and promotions. The UFT provides these opportunities to their members as a service for their hard work in their field.