As second vice president of the New York State Teachers Association in 1972, Antonia Cortese worked tirelessly with Tom Hobart, NYSTA president; Al Shanker, president of the United Teachers of New York; Sandra Feldman, UTNY vice president; and other pioneers to merge the two rival teachers unions into one stronger statewide organization.
Cortese was no stranger to the teachers union movement. A fourth-grade teacher and social worker in Rome, she began her union career as a building representative for the Rome Teachers Association. She later served as secretary, vice president, and two terms as president of the upstate local.
Antonia Cortese, Tom Hobart and Al Shanker traveled around the state to promote a statewide merger of rival teacher unions.
"Her leadership was clear from the first day," recalled Jim Wood, NYSUT executive director of Field and Legal Services. When Cortese ran for NYSTA office as a virtual unknown, delegates quickly recognized her enthusiasm and elected her over two other candidates, Wood said.
When the merger was finally realized, Cortese served as second vice president under the newly formed New York State United Teachers, a position she held for 12 years before being elected first vice president in 1985. Under her leadership, the NYSUT Division of Research and Educational Services has become a potent force on state and national issues.
Cortese speaking at a rally during the 1978 Levittown strike.
Cortese led the way in the call for high academic standards and strongly advocates quality teacher preparation and professional development. An AFT vice president, Cortese sits on the AFT's Executive Council, was a member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and is a vice president of the state AFL-CIO.
Cortese flexes union muscle at a successful rally for a permanent Cost-of-Living Adjustment.