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Two Women Named Sandra

                                                             TWO WOMEN NAMED SANDRA

                                                                            By Bobbie Margo


In this article, the two women named Sandra are Sandra Feldman and Sandra Peterson.  Both women were involved in union activities for a great majority of their lives, Feldman more at the National level and Peterson more at the State level; both women were close in age.


Sandra Feldman, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1939, worked as a substitute teacher in East Harlem and as a fourth grade teacher at PS #34.  She became active in the Civil Rights Movement, participating in the March on Washington, DC for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.  During this time, Feldman became an associate of Albert Shanker, then President of the UFT. (United Federation of Teachers)  In 1974, Shanker was elected President of the AFT, and Feldman was elected in Shankers place as UFT President.  Feldman was known for being a quiet but very effective leader.  As head of the UFT, she fought school system administrators and won significant higher wages and benefits as well as improved working conditions for her members.


In February 1997, Albert Shanker passed away from brain and lung cancer.  Feldman was appointed AFT President in May 1997 and elected to the position in July 1998.  She faced a significant cahallenge early on in her tenure as AFT President.  She presided over a vote concerning a proposed merger with the NEA.  Merger had been proposed various times since the 1960s, but had gained ground in 1995.  A no-raid” pact was signed by the two national unions in which they pledged not to raid one anothers locals in an effort to cool off decades of bad blood.  Terms of the mergers were agreed to and approved by the AFT Executive Council in February 1998.  But the NEA delegates rejected the pact in July 1998 in New Orleans at their annual meeting.  A majority of NEA delegates voted in favor of the agreement, but the required two-thirds majority needed to approve merger was not attained.  Despite the collapse of the merger at the national level, Feldman continued to advocate for merger at several state and local efforts, particularly in Minnesota, in Montana, and in Florida.


Enter Sandra Peterson.  Peterson was born in Benson, MN in 1936.  Peterson was the MFT (Minnesota Federation of Teachers) President for 11 years.  She then became a Co-President of Education Minnesota at the unions founding in 1998.  In 2004, Peterson ran a successful first campaign for a seat in the Minnesota House.  She continued to serve in the Minnesota House from 2005-2012.  She announced her retirement from the legislature in 2012 citing health concerns.  Peterson passed away in October 2012.  She leaves behind a legacy as a former teacher in the Robbinsdale School District as well as being MFT President, Co-President and Vice-President of Education Minnesota and 8 years of service in the MN House of Representatives.  While Peterson outlived Feldman, Peterson still looked to Feldman as a mentor, a union colleague, and a friend.


Over the next six years of Feldmans presidency, AFT attempted to expand its organizing capabilities, build state-level capacity to service existing units and to organize new units.  Her voice was a powerful one in support of both public schools and teacher accountability.  She strongly advocated national standards and rather than harshly criticizing the No Child Left Behind Act”, she condemned the Bush administration for not fully funding and enforcing the act.  In October 2002, Feldman was diagnosed with breast cancer.  After successful treatment, she returned to full-time work.  In the fall of 2003, her cancer returned.  Feldman announced in March 2004 that she would officially retire as AFT President at the July AFT 2004 Convention.  Ed McElroy, AFT Secretary-Treasurer, served as acting President until his official election at the 2004 Convention.


I, along with Judy Rohde, attended the 2004 AFT Convention held in Washington, DC from July 14-17.  Sandra Feldman made her last public speech and officially announced that she was retiring as President.  As I remember, she needed help walking onto and leaving the stage.  Yet, I recall her voice being strong, clear, and proud.  I recall her smiling a number of times at the delegates as she shared some of her past union participation.  She informed us that in her early years of involvement, she had been arrested-twice-for participating in Civil Rights Marches.  As her husband, Arthur Barnes, was helping Feldman from the stage, he turned to us and said, Thank you for giving my wife back to me.”  Feldman passed away in September 2005.


The two women named Sandra have left legacies that have far outlasted their lifetimes.  They are women warriors-all in the name of union rights, civil liberties, and public school education.

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