Sandra Feldman, longtime advocate for public education and former leader of the national teachers’ union, died Sunday at 65.
Colleagues at the American Federation of Teachers, the 1.3 million-member union that Feldman led from 1997 to 2004, cited cancer as the cause.
“Sandy’s death is a great loss for the AFT personally and professionally, and for the children of our nation,” AFT President Edward J. McElroy said in a statement.
Feldman was the product of a poor family in Brooklyn and attended public schools through high school. She maintained a strong commitment to disadvantaged children and to the rights of teachers and other professionals represented by the union. An early activist in the civil rights movement, she channeled her advocacy for social justice toward work in education and labor unions during her long career. A onetime second-grade elementary school teacher, Feldman served as president of the 90,000-member New York local United Federation of Teachers from 1986 to 1997. After successfully raising teachers’ salaries and championing equal opportunities for disadvantaged children, she rose to head the national union in 1997. She held that position until her retirement last year.
“Sandy Feldman will be remembered as a red-hot trade union leader who always had the interests of her members at heart, but who also had at heart the interests of those whom the members worked for, especially students and especially disadvantaged students,” said Rita Freedman, who worked closely with Feldman in the labor movement for more than 30 years.
As a union activist, Feldman was a longtime friend of the Forward Association. She worked as a labor advocate on an international level, condemning terrorism and helping teachers in the former Soviet Union form labor unions and improve classroom conditions.
Feldman is survived by her husband, Arthur Barnes, and by her brother and sister, as well as two children and two grandchildren of Barnes’.