Sandra Feldman elected UFT President
January 8, 1986
When Sandra Feldman declared that "Just because kids are poor, and maybe come from uneducated parents, and live in an urban setting, doesn't mean they shouldn't have teachers who are paid as well, and whose lives are as comfortable professionally, as teachers from the richest suburbs," she spoke from personal experience as both a student and teacher in New York's public schools. The daughter of a milkman and bakery worker from Coney Island, Feldman herself attended Public School 188 and, later, Brooklyn College. With her mother often ill, she became responsible for caring for her two younger siblings. School and the public library became intellectual and cultural refuges for her, which she credited with "creating my future."
While at Brooklyn College, Feldman met Bayard Rustin and became actively involved in the Civil Rights movement. When, in the mid-1960s, she began teaching fourth grade on Manhattan's Lower East Side, she was one of only two union members working at the school. On Rustin's recommendation, she was hired as a full time field representative of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and quickly worked her way through the ranks of the organization. On January 8, 1986, New York City teachers elected Feldman union president, putting her in charge of the largest union local in the world. She was the first woman to head the UFT.
After a decade heading the UFT, Feldman was elected president of the American Federation of Teachers in May 1997, a position she held until her retirement in 2004. She was the first woman to head the union since 1930, and only the second in the organization's history. A recognized authority on urban education and a former teacher herself, Feldman also served on the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO.
A passionate advocate for children with an intense commitment to social justice, Feldman was involved in numerous community organizations. She co-chaired the Child Labor Coalition and headed the AFL-CIO Committee on Social Policy. In addition, she served on the board of the Jewish Labor Committee, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and the United States Committee for UNICEF.
To mark her health-related retirement from the AFT in 2004, Congress passed a resolution honoring Feldman for "her tireless efforts to improve the quality of teaching and learning." Sandra Feldman died on September 18, 2005 at the age of 66.
To learn more about Sandra Feldman, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: Labor Movement in the United States.
Sources: www.aft.org/pubs-reports/american_educator/issues/winter05-06/tributeintro.htm; www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=hr108-714; Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 404-405; Sandra Feldman, Correspondence to Jewish Women's Archive, May 2004; www.uft.org/news/sandra_feldman.