January/February 2021 Issue
December 19, 2020

Have a teacher strike memory? Share it!

Author: Kara Smith

Long Island teacher locals have a long history of strikes and Retiree Council 17 President Ken Ulric wants to ensure it’s not forgotten.

The passing of legendary Long Island NYSUT activist Sheila Goldberg in 2020 was a wakeup call. “I realized that we’re losing our institutional history as members like Sheila pass,” said Ulric. With the election season winding down, Ulric — who heads Nassau County’s powerhouse retiree phone banking efforts — was ready for a new challenge. “I want to document these memories for our locals and our union,” he said.

In the 1976 Farmingdale Federation of Teachers strike, NYSUT officers and staff and scores of teachers from surrounding Nassau and Suffolk county districts joined their Farmingdale sisters and brothers on the picket line before and after school. “Unique for the time was using walkie talkies and CB radios to coordinate strike lines,” said Ulric. Members also noted license plate numbers to discourage line crossing, a practice that led one group of scabs to travel to school in a funeral hearse to avoid identification. It didn’t work.

That same year, the Nassau BOCES Central Council of Teachers went on strike, and some 50 law enforcement officers arrived on motorcycles to disrupt and intimidate picketing unionists.

The Levittown United Teachers’ 53-day strike in 1978 remains the longest teacher strike on Long Island. President Martin Cullinan was sentenced to 20 days in the Nassau County correctional facility for his role, a sentence that then-Gov. Hugh Carey commuted after eight days.

Of Long Island’s 124 school districts, roughly 20 percent have struck, and nearly 62 percent of the striking locals have hailed from ED 17.

“I’m really proud to be part of one of the most militant election districts on the island,” said Ulric.

He plans to interview members and document their stories in a manuscript.

As this project is a work in progress, Ulric notes that facts may change as he compiles more information. To keep the project scale manageable, he’s focusing solely on Long Island public school teacher strikes, although he realizes several Long Island college educator locals have also struck. “I haven’t found any SRP strikes yet,” said Ulric.

The 2021 Representative Assembly marks the 30th anniversary of NYSUT’s retiree program. The retiree unit began in 1991 to help retired members stay organized and involved in union activities.

How to share

Do you have a story about a Long Island public school teacher strike to share? Contact Ken Ulric at kulric@ optonline.net.

Not from Long Island? We want to hear all of your strike stories. Send stories to geralyn.oreilly@nysut.org.