Former AFT President Sandra Feldman—described as part shop steward, part visionary—was inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame on May 21.
During her tenure as AFT president from 1997 to 2004, the union's membership grew by more than 350,000, passing 1 million members. Feldman earned a reputation as a staunch champion of early childhood education and improved opportunities for low-income children, including access to great teachers.
"Just because kids are poor, and maybe come from uneducated parents, and live in an urban setting," Feldman said, "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."
AFT President Randi Weingarten, who was on hand for the Washington, D.C., induction ceremony, along with Edward McElroy, Feldman's successor as president, said Feldman's "passion for our members and for the children we serve was unparalleled."
"Sandy walked the walk all the time," Weingarten said. "She was an organizer in and out of the classroom." Under Feldman, she added, people increasingly saw the union not only as the place to fight for better pay, benefits and working conditions, but also as an organization to promote professionalism in the teaching.
When Feldman died in 2005, the AFT and New York City's United Federation of Teachers, which she led for more than 10 years, produced a memorial publication titled "Sandy: In Her Own Words," which offers a comprehensive look at her life and achievements.
The other 2015 inductee in the Labor Hall of Fame is Daniel J. Tobin, who led the International Brotherhood of Teamsters from 1907 to 1952.
Feldman joins a number of other AFT leaders who have been inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame since it began in 1973, including Margaret Haley, Layle Lane, Robert Porter and Albert Shanker.
[Dan Gursky, Labor Hall of Fame]