Cynthia Leonor Garza
WASHINGTON—After more than four decades as a leader in the labor movement and in education, and as a courageous champion of children’s issues, American Federation of Teachers Secretary-Treasurer Antonia Cortese announced last Saturday that she will retire on Sept. 8.
“Toni’s fierce dedication on behalf of our members, her expertise on education issues, and her commitment to advancing children’s issues both in the United States and abroad, have laid a strong foundation for our union,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Her invaluable contributions will be greatly missed, but we wish her and her family the best in her well-earned retirement.”
Cortese became involved in the union shortly after starting her career in Rome, N.Y., as a fourth-grade teacher and school social worker. Her strong leadership pushed her to rise quickly in the union ranks, from building representative to a leader in her local and state union affiliates. From 1973 to 2004, Cortese was a leader of the New York State United Teachers, which now represents more than 600,000 workers in New York’s public schools, colleges, universities and health facilities. Cortese served as an AFT vice president from 1974 to 2004 and as executive vice president from 2004 to 2008, and has been in her current position since 2008.
NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi hailed Cortese as a trailblazer: “Who we are as NYSUT is the direct result of the tireless work of NYSUT’s founding officers. Toni blazed the trail and created the path we are all able to walk down as we chart a course forward. Her work for NYSUT and the AFT has set a high standard we can only hope to achieve.”
Over her career of more than 40 years, Cortese contributed her expertise to many professional and nonprofit groups, including Special Olympics, the Learning First Alliance, the Child Labor Coalition, Freedom House, United Way of America and the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees.