NYSUT President Emeritus Tom Hobart said he was proud and humbled by being named 2014 winner of the Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service.
A lifetime dedicated to advancing the cause of labor came full circle Friday night as Thomas Y. Hobart Jr., NYSUT’s president emeritus, accepted the Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service, NYSUT’s highest honor.
Hobart’s voice was strong but filled with emotion as he stood at the podium from which he led three decades’ worth of NYSUT Representative Assemblies and thanked the nearly 2,000 NYSUT members gathered for the union’s annual policy-making convention.
Hobart invoked past winners of the award, including Bill and Hillary Clinton and the late Sandra Feldman, former president of the AFT and UFT, when he told the gathering that “I am proud and humbled that you feel I should join them.”
He thanked his wife Dorothy, their children and their extended family in the audience for supporting his career.
Although Hobart became internationally known for his work as an organizer and as a voice of hope for labor movements in oppressed countries, NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi reminded the assembly that above all else, “Tom dedicated his life to ensuring all students the right to a sound, basic education.”
Hobart rose from his position as an industrial arts teacher and guidance counselor in Buffalo in the early 1960s to forge an alliance with United Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, whom the award honors. Hobart created the award to recognize distinguished service in public education.
The union that Hobart and Shanker founded, and which eventually took the name New York State United Teachers, would bring two fledgling unions together to become the nation’s most powerful unified voice for better learning conditions for students and fair working conditions for educators.
Today, NYSUT members include public school teachers and School-Related Professionals, university professors and staff members, nurses and other health care and human services professionals, lifeguards and child-care workers.
Hobart became president in 1972 and served until 2005. Along the way, he retained the personable approach to unionism that marked his earliest efforts.
Two other people who spoke from the podium Friday night mentioned early encounters with Hobart that left lasting impressions on them. Mario Cilento, president of the state AFL-CIO, recounted how Hobart would stop to talk to him with genuine interest when Cilento was first working for the AFL-CIO in his early 20s. Margie Brumfield, School-Related Professionals Member of the Year, also thanked Hobart as she accepted her own award.
Said Brumfield, “I started as a union member, but Tom Hobart made me a unionist.”
— Darryl McGrath