April 04, 2011

Lucille Swaim: Not for Ourselves Alone: The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award

Source:  RA 2011

Lucille Swaim
United Federation of Teachers

A lifelong unionist and master of her trade, Lucille Swaim has been at the table for the UFT for every single contract negotiation in the union's history. Her skilled presence has had a tremendous impact on the gains the UFT has made for members. Deeply committed to social and economic justice, she continues to serve the UFT today with the same passion she brought to her work when she first joined the union almost 50 years ago.

A professor of economics in the 1950s, Swaim first came to the UFT in 1961, assigned by her employer, the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Department, to assist in the union's historic campaign to represent New York City teachers. After the election was won, she assisted in negotiations for the UFT's first contract.

Alongside Al Shanker, Swaim served on the first negotiating committee as "historian" and recorded all the official minutes. The negotiations yielded the first comprehensive collective bargaining agreement covering teachers anywhere in the United States - and spurred forward a national movement of teacher unionization.

Swaim was an integral part of this movement and spent the remainder of the 1960s assigned by the Industrial Union Department to various teachers unions clamoring for collective bargaining rights across the country. From 1962 to 1964, she worked with the Boston Teachers Union, and from 1964 to 1969, she joined the Empire State Federation of Teachers, a precursor to NYSUT, as an organizer and negotiator on Long Island.

In 1969, Swaim returned to the UFT as the union's coordinator of negotiations, a position she has held ever since. She has participated in negotiations for every single UFT-DOE contract and many others, as well. Her expertise has informed the policies of not one, but four UFT presidents.