LORRETTA JOHNSON is the secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. She was first elected to the position by a unanimous vote of the AFT executive council in July 2011, and was overwhelmingly re-elected at the AFT’s biennial conventions in July 2012 and July 2014.
In October 2011, Johnson was elected treasurer of the AFT Educational Foundation and chair of the AFT Benefit Trust. Two months prior, she was elected as a vice president of the AFL-CIO—the federation representing 56 national and international unions, including the AFT. Johnson also serves on the board of directors of the Albert Shanker Institute, the AFL-CIO’s Union Privilege organization and the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department.
Before becoming AFT secretary-treasurer, Johnson was the union’s executive vice president (2008 to 2011). And she chaired the AFT Paraprofessionals and School-Related Personnel (PSRP) program and policy council from 1979 until October 2011. Prior to that, she was an AFT vice president for 30 years. Johnson also served as president of the Baltimore Teachers Union’s paraprofessional chapter for 35 years and as president of AFT-Maryland for 17 years. In 2014, Johnson chaired the AFT Racial Equity Task Force, leading the AFT to become the first public sector union in modern history to issue a substantive, action-oriented report on achieving racial equity in America, “Reclaiming the Promise of Racial Equity in Education, Economics and Our Criminal Justice System.”
Johnson started her career in 1966 as a teacher’s aide in a Baltimore elementary school, where she earned $2.25 an hour and received no benefits. To improve the work situation of paraprofessionals like herself, she organized them into the Baltimore Teachers Union. In 1970, she negotiated the union’s first contract, highlighted by its grievance procedure. That experience laid the foundation for Johnson’s union activism. Her efforts have helped the BTU become a lobbying and political force in City Hall, the Baltimore community and the Maryland state Legislature. Over the years, she also served as chief negotiator for teacher and paraprofessional contracts.
Johnson holds several leadership positions outside the AFT. She is a trustee for the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, and serves on the board of directors of the Municipal Employees Credit Union in Baltimore. She also was vice president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO for 29 years. In August 2008, Johnson was named treasurer of the national board of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and is president of APRI’s Baltimore chapter. She also is the assistant treasurer for the Baltimore County chapter of the NAACP. Most recently, Johnson was elected to the board of directors of the BlueGreen Alliance; Union Privilege and Union Label & Service Trades Department, both of which affiliate with the AFL-CIO; Citizens for Tax Justice; the Child Labor Coalition, which she co-chairs; the Faith & Politics Institute; and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a think tank that focuses primarily on domestic women’s issues. In 2015, Johnson was named corporate representative to the National Alliance of Black School Educators. She also serves on the American Income Life Labor Advisory Board, the Master Your Card African American Advisory Board, and the National Advisory Board on Community Engagement in the State Courts.
Johnson’s political activism led to her being honored as 2005 Labor Leader of the Year by the Maryland Democratic Party. Ebony magazine also featured her in an article titled “Blacks of Influence in Unions.”
Johnson received her teaching degree through the Career Opportunities Program at Coppin State University in Maryland. She has received numerous awards, including an honorary doctoral degree from Coppin State, a community service award from the United Way, and a volunteer service award from the Maryland State AFL-CIO. Johnson also has received the Albert Shanker PSRP Pioneer Award, and the Service Award from the Baltimore Teachers Union’s paraprofessional chapter.
Johnson is the proud mother of three children, whom she raised with her late husband, Leonard. She has seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.