Posts Tagged 'Divestment'

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.


The Fight to Divest Pension Funds – in the 80s Apartheid, today Fossil Fuels

(from the New Action leaflet distributed at the November 2015 UFT Delegate Assembly).
For a printable version click: November 2015 Leaflet back

The Fight to Divest Pension Funds
from Corporations Doing Business with The Republic of South Africa

In 1984-85 one of the predecessors to New Action/UFT the Teachers’ Action Caucus, initiated a postcard campaign directed at the UFT to urge our three Teacher Members on the Retirement Board to press for divestment of our pension funds from corporations doing business with the apartheid regime of South Africa. Although neither the union nor the three members alone could call for divestment, both could certainly have a major impact on convincing the Retirement Board to do so.


In January 1986, after six months of Unity Caucus refusing to seat Michael Shulman who had just been elected in May 1985 as V.P. for Academic High Schools, he took his seat. This only happened after Shulman and New Action agreed to a second election, which New Action won overwhelmingly. At Shulman’s first Ad Com meeting, President Sandra Feldman was confused by what divestment was. She asked Michael, “What are these postcards about?” It was some time later that the UFT came on board with the anti apartheid, divestment movement.

The study to divest pension funds took another two years, after which the UFT joined the rest of the labor movement.

The Fight to Divest Pension Funds from Fossil Fuel Companies and
other entities that Contribute to Climate Change

On this month’s Delegate Assembly agenda we have a resolution that calls for the teacher members of the Teachers’ Retirement Board to request a study to review strategies to divest from fossil fuel companies without putting members pensions or investments at risk. This is a responsible approach.

However, such a study should not be extended for an undue period of time. Certainly, we do not want to repeat the experience from the 1980s, when it took two years to study whether or not we could divest from South Africa – it was the right thing to do, and we were able to divest responsibly. In 2015, a few months should suffice. Climate change needs to be addressed today.

Report from UFT December 9 Executive Board

Open mike – no speaker.

President’s report. Mulgrew was present.

Everyone is asking him first who the Chancellor will be. He said BDB has his own process, which we will let him go through. He rattled off five names in contention (Alonso, Cashin, Darling-Hammond, Farina, Starr). He said each of them had their supporters and detractors. And that none of them was a corporate reformer. Mentioned that Henderson is one, but that BDB interviewed her for political reasons. 

There will be a debate at the Delegate Assembly on Wednesday – what should the system look like (structurally). (Followed by a resolution for voting in January)  120 principals signed a letter asking to keep the networks. Out of 1800 principals. And some of the signers were not aware that they had signed. But these are networks, such as the one for Consortium schools, that are actually supporting their schools. They have good networks.

There needs to be an Office of Teaching. The Office of Accountability should be staffed with 3 people, not 360. We already have state and federal accountability. (In response to a comment from the floor) – Legal is all Ivy League lawyers. Do you know how much they are costing us?

There was a meeting in the Bronx this (Monday Dec 9) morning with chapter leaders, principals, superintendants, DRs… discussing evaluations.

These is Bloomberg’s time to trumpet his educational triumphs, but it is falling flat. Even the Post ran an editorial challenging his graduation rates.

People think everything will be better on January 2. Won’t be so.

Staff Director’s Report (LeRoy Barr)

LeRoy spoke about last Thursday’s rally, and Monday’s Reclaim the Promises event.


I  asked the only question:  First I asked if Mulgrew would be back (he was not) then I asked how would the debate Wednesday be organized, and could we see the recommendations in advance. Emil Pietromonaco answered that there would be a bulleted list. And about getting that list before the DA, I don’t think he answered.

Reports from Districts

Janella Hinds reported in more detail about the event in the Bronx held earlier Monday (see above).

George Altomare reported on an upcoming Per Diem Cttee event on Affordable Health Care, and on a social studies pd event.

Legislative Report – Paul Egan was present, but there was no report.

Special Orders of Business

There was a “Transition Report” on the agenda. Turns out it was already covered, that was what Mulgrew was doing under the President’s report.

There was a resolution to honor Nelson Mandela. Sterling Roberson spoke, followed by Anthony Harmon, George Altomare, Mel Aaronson, and LeRoy Barr. It passed unanimously.

Mike Shulman was not present – but I wish he was there, so he could have talked about divestment, about how Teachers Action Caucus (one of New Action’s predecessors) began a grass roots postcard campaign to get the UFT to divest our pension funds from South Africa, and how this minority cause came to become UFT policy.

New Action Caucus has ten seats on the UFT Executive Board – the only ten seats that do not belong to Unity Caucus.

Ten is not enough to win anything – but it allows our voice to be heard, it allows us to put forward resolutions, and when there is agreement, to put forward resolutions the leadership signs onto. It allows us to offer amendments. It allows us to bring issues to the leadership.

At Exec after Exec, Unity members sit and listen. Some never speak. Most rarely speak. But New Action usually has questions, comments, resolutions, or amendments.

This year we will publish reports – sometimes on the entire Exec Board, sometimes just on New Action’s contribution.

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February 2023