30 Years Ago Today: Our Pension Funds and The Fight for Divestment

From the Frontlines #2
By Michael Shulman

Thursday, January 9, 1986 was the first day I took office as the elected Vice President for Academic High Schools. Although I was elected in the spring of 1985, the Unity led UFT under the leadership of Albert Shanker refused to allow me to take my rightful place. The election was contested, by the incumbent, and a Committee to Investigate the Election Challenge was formed.

After 6 months (and $15,000 dollars in legal fees) I and the New Action Coalition that supported me agreed to go to a second election that I won decisively.

Back to January 1986. On Monday, January 27th two interesting issues came up at my first Ad Com meeting (the officers of the union). Seated to Sandra Feldman’s immediate left, I stated that I wanted to begin with a statement of principle. I refused to accept the double pension that union officers, district reps and other staff received. At first there was stunned silence. An officer and leading member of Unity (who I won’t name since she passed away many years ago) asked me, “Mike, what’s wrong with union leaders being in the vanguard?” I responded, “Let’s have that discussion after we win additional pension monies for our members who work beyond their work day doing per session.” It’s ironic that many years later the UFT did win the additional pension benefit. Of course, by then I was no longer in office and missed having that discussion.

The second topic occurred between Sandra Feldman and myself that day. Back in 1984, the Teacher Action Caucus, which I was a member of, initiated a postcard campaign to call on our three Teacher Members of the Retirement Board to push for divestment of our pension funds from companies doing business with the apartheid regime of South Africa (reported in the November 2015 leaflet put out by New Action/UFT). UFT President Feldman looked at me and asked, “Michael, what are these postcards about?” As incredulous as the question was I knew she knew what it was about.”

But my response was serious and I put forward what the members were asking for.

That postcard campaign was instructive. Of course the anti-apartheid fight began long before 1984 and much of the trade union movement was already on board in this fight to divest. But that initiative by a small group of UFT’ers none-the-less played a big role in moving our union. A short time after this meeting, the UFT members of the Teachers Retirement system did, in fact, put forth the case for divestment of our pension funds. Although it took two years to come to pass our UFT made its contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle. The rest is history.

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1 Response to “30 Years Ago Today: Our Pension Funds and The Fight for Divestment”


  1. 1 Henry Frisch March 30, 2016 at 10:59 am

    Well do I remember those days….thirty years, wow!


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