Our National Union celebrated its 100th Anniversary in Minneapolis this summer at the AFT Convention. National union staff members searched the archives for historical information about the union. As part of their efforts, it was discovered that the first local in Utah was chartered on May 9, 1919 under the title The Ogden Federation of Teachers Local #78. After this event, other AFT locals were organized throughout Utah. Dan Golodner, AFT Archivist at the Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs at Wayne State University compiled this brief history of AFT in Utah. Yes folks, we have been an important part of labor history in our state!
Organized labor has been in Utah since men started pulling coal out of the ground in the Coalville and Scofield areas in the early 1880s but it was not until 1919 that teachers started to form unions. The first AFT local organized in Utah was the Ogden Federation of Teachers Local 78 in 1919. It lasted less than a year when it was forced to disband from pressure by the administration. Then the Ogden High School teachers organized Local 163 a month later. They too faced the same pressures from administration to disband which they did. In general, after World War I it was not a good time to be in a union; the public sentiment towards organized labor was very negative, especially towards public employees. Teachers who tried to gain a voice in the workplace found it especially hard; there was no protection for teachers in their jobs, they worked at will and could be fired without cause. When teachers formed unions or even talked about unions, the administration would intimidate, threaten and flat out let the teacher go to stop a union being formed in their district. Although the first wave of teacher unionism was stopped cold, the AFT continued to organize.
In the 1930s when it seemed like the entire nation was joining a union, teachers in Utah did as well, forming nine AFT locals throughout the state. A few managed to hold on throughout the decade while others could not get any support to get going. It was the same issues as before, it was unprofessional for teachers to organize with labor, and superintendents wanted to retain their control. The Utah Education Association had also increased its’ power and influence in the state. The UEA had enough funds to offer teachers health insurance, small loans and other benefits if they were members. Under the fear of firing and the availability of having some sort of benefits, teachers mostly stayed away from the AFT, by the end of the 1930s all AFT locals had disbanded.
In the 1950s a resurgence of interest in the AFT by teachers in Utah occurred again. Late in 1951, F.C. Snow, an organizer for the AFT started laying the ground work for locals, especially in Ogden. Some of the difficulties were “50% of the teachers in Utah have only emergency credentials, and are hesitant to make demands or even request. The teacher turnover is very high. Most teachers were working two or three jobs. They have no time to give to a union program. Average salary below $3,000.” However, with his tenacity in 1953 five locals were chartered. This sudden interest was partly because the state legislatures were planning to tie teachers’ salaries to merit pay schemes. Once AFT locals were formed, anti-union letters appeared in every teachers’ mailbox in Utah. The UEA was in full battle mode to stop any teacher affiliating with the AFT. [Note that the anti-union letter was printed with a union bug on it so they used a union print shop.] The AFT remained in place for the next couple of years but again the steam ran out of the teachers, and the pressure from the UEA was too much for the AFT to place a strong foothold.
The next signs of the AFT moving into Utah was the early 1980s. Hints of a successful organizing drive started in Alpine when a series of investigations began to look into corruption with the school board. The Alpine Federation of Teachers was the only voice for the teachers during this time and teachers started signing cards to join the Alpine Federation of Teachers. The local submitted a charter application with 172 members and received their charter in June 1984. The AFT began the Utah organizing project and for nearly 15 years new locals were formed covering K-12, school personnel, higher education and staff.
The history of the AFT in Utah has been as long as the AFT has been around. With perseverance and strong leadership AFT Utah continued through good times and bad to remain a voice for the voiceless in Utah.
Short bios of Utah locals, bleak as it seems these are the foundations of the AFT in Utah.
- Ogden Federation of Teachers Local 78 Founded May 9, 1919. The local organized like many with high hopes and full support from the local labor council. So much support that the Ogden Trade and Labor Assembly unanimously voted in as first vice president Mrs. Hvizdalek from Local 78. But with pressure from the school board, the new superintendent and anti-labor forces the teachers decided to vote to disband by November 1920.
- Local 163 Ogden High School Federation of Teachers organized in March 1920 and disbanded by that fall.
- Tooele County Federation of Teachers Local 270 organized in 1933. They tried to work on issues surrounding tenure and pension. There is no real correspondence from them but they lasted a good 5 years.
- Jordan Chapter of Federation of Teachers Local 348 in October 1934 but like some locals in the early history of the AFT, they vanished.
- Tintic District Teachers Union Local 285 organized in March 1934 and had almost 100%, with only 2 hold outs. The archive has very little correspondence from the local. The only thing kept in the files were the monthly per caps. The last correspondence was telling the national AFT that they were disbanding, mostly because the UEA at the time was too good to pass up not being a member. They offered small loans, insurance, etc. and paying into two organizations was a bit much for the low waged teachers.
- Provo Federation of Teachers Local 351 chartered in October 1934 and disbanded in July 1935. There is no correspondence from the local about their activities.
- Salt Lake City Federation of Teachers Local 352 was founded in October 1934 and disbanded April 1940. During their tenure, the very small local of about 10 fought for a tenure law in the state of Utah but mostly the local tried to increase membership. There seemed to have been a logistical issue with numbers for Salt Lake City. The original local started in 1934 and disbanded within a year, then was brought back in November 1937 and given number 526, but filed as 352. So Salt Lake had two numbers in the 1930s.
- In October 1934 the teachers of Park City sent a charter application to the AFT but that is the last we heard from them.
- Sevier Federation of Teachers Local 363 was founded in December 1934 with a membership of 30 teachers. But there is no historical record of what happened to them and they themselves disappeared.
- Granite Federation of Teachers Local 378 lasted for less than three months.
- Salt Lake City Adult Education Local 565 was a WPA local that represented all adult teachers and recreation teachers in the county lasted from April till December 1938. One possible reason for the local to fold was financial reasons, the last correspondence talked about getting back dues paid up and finding the teachers to pay their dues.
- Salt Lake County Federation of Teachers Local 1187 was founded in April 1953 and immediately the Utah Education Association pounced with anti-union rhetoric.
- Salt Lake City Federation of Teachers was chartered on May 11, 1953, membership peaked at 60 members in the fall of 1953 and ended in 1957, with membership at 7 individuals.
- Provo Federation of Teachers Local 1198 was another local formed in 1953 and ended November 1955 with seven members.
- Alpine federation of Teachers Local 1201 was chartered in September 1953 and only lasted three months.
- Carbon County Federation of Teachers charted November 1953 and could only put in four months.
In the 1930s AFT locals met as a group before the UEA convention. The local press called it the Utah Federation of Teachers in which the Utah locals knew they could not form a state federation without 5 locals, they thought it best not to correct the press and let it stand to show the UEA a sign of strength. Finally, in 1953 five locals sent in a charter application to be a state federation and it was in November 1953 with Jack Pressitt as its first president and Mrs. Wilmith J. Rees as the first executive secretary.
National AFT organizers worked in Utah in the 1980’s and 1990’s and from their efforts we have the locals that exist in Utah today. The Utah State Federation, AFT Utah #8042, was re-established on November 1, 1990 with other locals being chartered around the same period.
We are excited to be reconnecting with our union heritage. AFT National has given us permission to stake claim to our 1919 roots in Ogden by giving us the option to use Local #78 as the official local number for AFT Top of Utah that incorporates the Ogden District. We may request that Granite, Salt Lake Federation, Alpine, and others (as they increase membership) use their historic local numbers. There have been those throughout our state that have tried to marginalize AFT by claiming our union is relatively new to Utah, but the evidence is clear that we have a 97 year legacy of protecting the rights of working people and their families as a UNION that stands with the employees of public and higher education.