SHANKER, ALBERT (1928–1997), U.S. labor leader. Shanker, who was born in New York City, taught in the New York City public school system from 1952 to 1959, when he resigned to become a trade union organizer for the city's teachers. Elected president of the 55,000-member United Federation of Teachers (uft) in 1964, Shanker, as the teachers' legal bargaining agent, led the uft in winning considerable improvements for teachers and assurances of more effective teaching methods in slum schools.
His most serious problem as uft head resulted from the partial implementation of a school decentralization plan, which would have placed teachers under the control of 30 elected local school boards. The attempt by the administrator of one black and Puerto Rican "demonstration district" to remove union teachers – all of whom were Jews – from his district precipitated three city-wide school strikes which virtually closed New York City public schools in September and October 1968; the large majority of the teachers in the city system were Jewish. Charges and countercharges of racism and antisemitism and violent tactics by black militants in some areas profoundly disturbed New York City Jews and exacerbated race relations (see *Black-Jewish Relations in the U.S.). The strike settlement was a clear victory for the union, addressing its main points.
From 1974 until his death Shanker served as president of the American Federation of Teachers, and retained his presidency of the uft until 1986. He was vice president of the afl-cio Central Labor Council of New York City, and the Jewish Labor Committee. From 1970 to 1997 he had a column in the New York Times entitled "Where We Stand," which dealt with topics relating to education, labor, and current events.
The Albert Shanker Institute in Washington, d.c., established in 1998 in his honor, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to generating ideas and promoting policy proposals relating to children's education; unions as advocates for quality; and freedom of association in the public life of democracies.