TO FORM A MORE PERFECT UNION
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the AFT over the coming year, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel have much to be proud of. What follows is a look at the origins of our union and how it grew when PSRPs brought their talents and voices to the AFT.
The reason for a union is solidarity, but early days of the AFT saw separation, even segregation, among our first locals. There were male locals and female locals, black locals and white locals, elementary and high school locals.
Many of the first affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers faced withering intimidation—so much so that a few collapsed after their inception nearly a century ago. The AFT affiliate in Gary, Ind., for example, was established at the same time as our original band of hearty Chicagoans on May 1, 1916, but disbanded under pressure from a steel strike. The original Oklahoma City federation, likewise launched on May Day 1916, foundered through “lack of interest and courage.” The Punxsutawney, Pa., federation, created about a year later, perished at the hands of school board opposition, and now its town is known mainly for a groundhog.
Another local, this one in Illinois, had the opposite problem: Its school board was said to be “too friendly” and many couldn’t see the need for a union. A pay increase likewise killed our local in the coal town of Shamokin, Pa. One affiliate in Boston disbanded over disparities in men’s and women’s pay.