American Federation of Teachers

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American Federation of Teachers
PredecessorAmerican Federation of Teachers and Students
FoundedApril 15, 1916 (1916-04-15)[1]
HeadquartersWashington, D.C.
  • United States
1.7 million
Key people
Randi Weingarten, president
AffiliationsAFL–CIO, Education International, Public Services International

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is the second largest teacher's labor union in America (the largest being the National Education Association). The union was founded in Chicago. John Dewey and Margaret Haley were founders.[2][3][4][5]

About 60 percent of AFT's membership works directly in education, with the remainder of the union's members composed of paraprofessionals and school-related personnel; local, state and federal employees; higher education faculty and staff, and nurses and other healthcare professionals.[6] The AFT has, since its founding, affiliated with trade union federations: until 1955 the American Federation of Labor, and now the AFL–CIO.


Total membership (US records; ×1000)[7]

Finances (US records; ×$1000)[7]
     Assets      Liabilities      Receipts      Disbursements

AFT was founded in Chicago, Illinois, on April 15, 1916. Charles Stillman was the first president and Margaret Haley was the national organizer. On May 9, 1916, the American Federation of Labor chartered the AFT. By 1919, AFT had 100 local affiliates and a membership of approximately 11,000 teachers, which amounted to 1.5% of the nation's teaching force. In its early days, AFT distinguished itself from the National Education Association (NEA) by its exclusion of school administrators from membership. Facing opposition from politicians and boards of education, membership in AFT declined to 7,000 by 1930. During this period, the organization had little impact on local or national education policy.[6]

AFT membership climbed during the Great Depression, reaching 33,000 by 1939. During the 1930s, AFT, whose members had historically been primary school teachers, saw influential college professors join the union. Also during the 1930s, the Communist Party gained influence within the AFT.[6] In 1941, under pressure from the AFL, the union ejected three local unions in New York City and Philadelphia (including its prominent early member, the New York City Teachers Union, AFT Local 5) for being communist-dominated. The charter revocations represented nearly a third of the union's national membership.[8]

The 1940s were marked by a series of teacher strikes, including 57 strikes that occurred from 1946 through 1949. By 1947, AFT had a membership of 42,000. The 1960s and 1970s also saw numerous teacher strikes, including 1,000 strikes involving more than 823,000 teachers between 1960 and 1974.

AFT membership was 59,000 in 1960, 200,000 in 1970, and 550,000 in 1980.[6] In 2017, membership was around 1.6 million, and the union had due income of $35 million.[9]

Since 1977, AFT has published a quarterly magazine for teachers covering various issues about children and education called American Educator. In 1998, the membership of the NEA rejected a proposed merger with AFT. The AFT's membership is half that of the NEA.[6]

Presidents of the AFT[edit]

Albert Shanker

In 1974, Albert Shanker was elected president of AFT. He served in this role until his death on February 22, 1997.[10] For 27 years, Shanker wrote a weekly column entitled "Where We Stand" that ran as an advertisement in The New York Times. Shanker was an early advocate of charter schools.[10] He also called for a national competency test for teachers, merit pay for teachers, and more rigorous requirements for high school graduation.[11] During his tenure as AFT president, Shanker was jailed twice for leading illegal strikes.[12]

Sandra Feldman

Sandra Feldman served as AFT's president from 1997 to 2004. Feldman helped craft the No Child Left Behind Act.[13]

Edward J. McElroy

Edward J. McElroy, the AFT's secretary-treasurer since 1992, was elected president of the AFT in 2004, replacing Feldman.[14] On February 12, 2008, McElroy announced he would retire at the union's regularly scheduled biennial convention in July. On July 14, 2008, Randi Weingarten was elected to succeed him.[15]

Randi Weingarten

On July 14, 2008, Randi Weingarten, then the president of the United Federation of Teachers, was elected to succeed McElroy as AFT president. In September 2008, she announced the launch of the AFT Innovation Fund, a union-led, private foundation-supported effort to provide grants to AFT unions to develop and implement innovations in education.[16] In 2014, Weingarten announced that AFT was ending a five-year funding relationship between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the AFT Innovation Fund.[17]

Political activities[edit]

Since 1980, AFT and the NEA have contributed nearly $57.4 million to federal campaigns, an amount that is about 30 percent higher than any single corporation or other union. About 95 percent of political donations from teachers unions have gone to Democrats.[18]

In 2008, AFT provided a campaign contribution of $1,784,808.59 to Hillary Clinton and $1,997,375.00 to Barack Obama.[19]

In July 2015, AFT endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. Clinton and AFT president Randi Weingarten are longtime friends.[20] AFT's official endorsement of Clinton caused controversy among some AFT members who felt that the endorsement came too soon and did not reflect the wishes of rank-and-file AFT members, some of whom supported Bernie Sanders.[21][22]

Members' dues underwrite much of AFT's political activities.[23][24] In 2015, four California teachers sued AFT and its California unit, the California Federation of Teachers, over the use of member dues for political activities. The plaintiffs argued that unions were violating their constitutional right to free speech by forcing them to either support union-favored causes and candidates or lose access to important job benefits such as disability and life insurance.[25]

In 2018, the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME resolved this matter, concluding that public sector union fees violate the First Amendment, compelling nonmembers to "subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern". Unions will, subsequently, need to gain the affirmative consent of individual teachers before enrolling them in the union.


Race relations[edit]

The AFT was one of the first trade unions to allow African-Americans and minorities to become full members of their trade union.[26] In 1918, the AFT called for equal pay for African-American teachers, the election of African Americans to local school boards and compulsory school attendance for African-American children. In 1919, the AFT called for equal educational opportunities for African-American children, and in 1928 called for the social, political, economic, and cultural contributions of African Americans to be taught in the public schools.[27]

In 1951, the union stopped chartering segregated locals.[28] It filed an amicus brief in the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education. In 1957, the AFT expelled all locals that refused to desegregate. This resulted in the loss of over 7,000 members.[8] In 1963, the AFT actively supported the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.[8]

Collective bargaining[edit]

By the late 1940s, AFT was slowly moving toward collective bargaining as an official policy. By the end of the 1970s, collective bargaining agreements covered 72% of public school teachers.[6]

Active shooter drills[edit]

In 2020, the union along with the National Education Association issued a report expressing opposition to active shooter drills being held in schools, calling on the drills to be revised or eliminated.[29]

Share My Lesson[edit]

In 2012, AFT partnered with Britain's TES Connect to create a curriculum sharing website called Share My Lesson. The AFT and TES invested $10 million to develop the site.[30]


In 2010, four American film documentaries, most notably Waiting for Superman, portrayed the AFT as hurting children by opposing charter schools and protecting incompetent teachers.[31]



1916: Charles Stillman[32]
1923: Florence Rood[32]
1925: Mary C. Barker[32]
1931: Henry R. Linville[32]
1934: Raymond F. Lowry[32]
1936: Jerome C. Davis[32]
1939: George S. Counts[32]
1942: John M. Fewkes[32]
1943: Joseph F. Landis[32]
1947: John M. Eklund[32]
1952: Carl J. Megel[32]
1964: Charles Cogen[33]
1968: David Selden[33]
1974: Albert Shanker
1997: Sandra Feldman
2004: Edward J. McElroy
2008: Randi Weingarten


1916: F. G. Stecker[32]
1926: Florence Curtis Hanson[32]
1935: George Davis[32]
1936: Irvin R. Kuenzli[32]
1953: Post vacant
1963: Robert Porter
1992: Edward J. McElroy
2004: Nat LaCour
2008: Antonia Cortese
2011: Lorretta Johnson
2020: Fedrick C. Ingram

Notable AFT members[edit]

Notable AFT locals and federations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Report of the Commissioner of Education Made to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1918. p. 107.
  2. ^ Martin, David Jerner; Loomis, Kimberly S. (June 25, 2013). Building Teachers: A Constructivist Approach to Introducing Education. Cengage Learning. ISBN 9781285530116.
  3. ^ "American Flint". 1968.
  4. ^ Lasley, II, Thomas J.; Hunt, Thomas C. (2010). Encyclopedia of Educational Reform and Dissent. SAGE. p. 56. ISBN 9781412956642.
  5. ^ Golodner, Daniel (2006). "Margaret Haley (1861–1939)". In Cayton, Andrew R.L.; Sisson, Richard; Zacher, Chris (eds.). The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. p. 1332. ISBN 978-0-253-34886-9.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Arnesen, Eric (2007). Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-class History, Volume 1. Taylor & Francis. pp. 87–90. ISBN 9780415968263.
  7. ^ a b US Department of Labor, Office of Labor-Management Standards. File number 000-012. (Search)
  8. ^ a b c Wayne Ross, E.; Mathison, Sandra (2007). Battleground Schools. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 632. ISBN 9780313339417.
  9. ^ "Financial Statements". American Federation of Teachers. September 8, 2014. Retrieved July 8, 2018.
  10. ^ a b Potter, Halley; Kahlenberg, Richard (August 30, 2014). "The Original Charter School Vision". New York Times. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  11. ^ Berger, Joseph (February 24, 1997). "Albert Shanker, 68, Combative Leader Who Transformed Teachers' Union, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  12. ^ Fiske, Edward (November 5, 1989). "Albert Shanker: Where He Stands". New York Times. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  13. ^ Berger, Joseph (September 20, 2005). "Sandra Feldman, Scrappy and Outspoken Labor Leader for Teachers, Dies at 65". New York Times. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  14. ^ Greenhouse, Steven (February 13, 2008). "Teachers' Union President to Step Down; New Yorker Is Seen as Successor". New York Times. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  15. ^ Green, Elizabeth (July 14, 2008). "Obama Tells Teachers Union He Opposes Vouchers". New York Sun. Retrieved February 4, 2015.
  16. ^ Mathews, Jay (May 4, 2009). "American Federation of Teachers Announces Innovation Fund". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 18, 2014.
  17. ^ Emma, Caitlin (March 10, 2014). "Exclusive: AFT shuns Gates funding". Politico. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  18. ^ Brill, Steven (May 17, 2010). "The Teachers' Unions' Last Stand". New York Times. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  19. ^ "Independent Expenditures Supporting/Opposing 2008 Presidential Campaigns" (PDF). FEC. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  20. ^ Moser, Laura (July 13, 2015). "The American Federation of Teachers Endorsed Hillary Clinton—and Not Everyone's Happy About It". Slate. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  21. ^ Shah, Nirvi (July 11, 2015). "American Federation of Teachers endorses Hillary Clinton for president". Politico. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
  22. ^ Karni, Annie (July 16, 2015). "Unions seethe over early Clinton endorsement". Politico. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  23. ^ "National Education Association And American Federation Of Teachers Give Millions To Various Outside Causes, Political Campaigns". Huffington Post. July 13, 2012. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  24. ^ Mundy, Alicia (July 12, 2012). "Teachers Unions Give Broadly". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  25. ^ Brown, Emma (April 7, 2015). "California teachers unions face new legal challenge over dues". Washington Post. Retrieved September 15, 2015.
  26. ^ Dewing, Rolland (1973). "The American Federation of Teachers and Desegregation". Journal of Negro Education. 42 (1): 79–92. doi:10.2307/2966795. JSTOR 2966795.
  27. ^ Eaton, The American Federation of Teachers, 1916–1961, 1975, p. 61-72.
  28. ^ Hiram Perlstein, Daniel (2004). Justice, Justice: School Politics and the Eclipse of Liberalism. Peter Lang. p. 24. ISBN 9780820467870.
  29. ^ "Teachers unions express opposition to active shooter drills". WCPO. Associated Press. February 12, 2020. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  30. ^ Rich, Motoko (June 19, 2012). "Teachers' Union to Open Lesson-Sharing Web Site". New York Times. Retrieved June 19, 2012.
  31. ^ Richard Whitmire, The bee eater: Michelle Rhee takes on the nation's worst school district (2011) p. 126. John Wiley and Sons, 2011 ISBN 0-470-90529-8, ISBN 978-0-470-90529-6
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Organizing the Teaching Profession The Story of the American Federation of Teachers. American Federation of Teachers. 1955. p. 311.
  33. ^ a b Notable Names in American History. Clifton, New Jersey: James T. White & Company. 1973. p. 557. ISBN 0883710021.
  34. ^ Herken, Brotherhood of the Bomb: The Tangled Lives and Loyalties of Robert Oppenheimer, Ernest Lawrence, and Edward Teller, 2002, p. 30.
  35. ^ Robertson, Kipp (September 15, 2015). "Kshama Sawant: Teachers have come under 'ferocious assault'". Retrieved September 15, 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Archives of Labor History. Wayne State University. An American Federation of Teachers Bibliography. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-8143-1659-X online
  • Berube, Maurice R. Teacher Politics: The Influence of Unions Vol. 26. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1988. ISBN 0-313-25685-3
  • Braun, Robert J. Teachers and Power: The Story of the American Federation of Teachers. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972. ISBN 0-671-21167-6 online
  • Cain, Timothy Reese. "For Education and Employment: The American Federation of Teachers and Academic Freedom, 1926–1941." History of Higher Education Annual, 26 (2007), 67–102.
  • Commission on Educational Reconstruction of the American Federation of Teachers. Organizing the Teaching Profession: The Story of the American Federation of Teachers (1955) see online book review
  • Dewing, Rolland. "The American Federation of Teachers and Desegregation," Journal of Negro Education Vol. 42, No. 1 (Winter, 1973), pp. 79–92 in JSTOR
  • Eaton, William Edward. The American Federation of Teachers, 1916–1961: A History of the Movement. Urbana, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1975. ISBN 0-8093-0708-1 online
  • Gaffney, Dennis. Teachers United: The Rise of New York State United Teachers. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2007. ISBN 0-7914-7191-8
  • Gordon, Jane Anna. Why They Couldn't Wait: A Critique of the Black-Jewish Conflict Over Community Control in Ocean-Hill Brownsville, 1967–1971. Oxford: RoutledgeFalmer, 2001. ISBN 0-415-92910-5
  • Haley, Margaret. Battleground: The Autobiography of Margaret A. Haley. Robert L. Reid, ed. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1982. ISBN 0-252-00913-4
  • Kahlenberg, Richard. "Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy Columbia University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-23150909X
  • Knudsen, Andrew. Communism, Anti-Communism, and Faculty Unionization: The American Federation of Teachers Union at the University of Washington, 1935–1948, Great Depression in Washington State Project, 2009.


External links[edit]