Before being elected president of the American Federation of Teachers in 2008, Weingarten spent 11 years as the president of the United Federation of Teachers, AFT Local 2, representing close to 200,000 educators in the New York City public school system, home child care providers and other workers in health, law and education.
Weingarten graduated from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the Cardozo School of Law. From 1983 to 1986 she worked as a lawyer for the Wall Street firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. She taught history at Clara Barton High School in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood from 1991 to 1997.
Between 1986 and 1998 Weingarten served as counsel to then UFT President Sandra Feldman, leading contract negotiations and enforcement, and in lawsuits for adequate school funding and building conditions.
Weingarten was eventually elected president of the United Federation of Teachers in 1998 and was re-elected three times. While president of the UFT, she chaired New York City’s Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella organization for the city’s 100-plus sector unions, including those representing higher education and other public service employees. While serving as chair she coordinated labor negotiations and bargaining benefits on behalf of union members.
In 2012-’13, Weingarten served on the Equity and Excellence Commission, a federal advisory committee chartered by Congress to examine the disparity in educational opportunities and the ensuing achievement gap. She also served under the New York State governor’s education reform commission.
When COVID-19 brought America to a halt, Weingarten held court with scientists and health professionals to develop a plan for safely reopening schools. She also campaigned heavily on behalf of U.S. President Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential election.
Weingarten said that the past year-plus has shown her union’s power.
“In the last year and a half, despite insurmountable odds and in the face of tremendous stress, our members and so many workers around this country have figured out how to overcome obstacles and uncertainty,” said Weingarten. “We ‘MacGyvered’ it, every single day since March 2020. Nothing has been easy, but everything has been made less difficult because of union family.
“During the pandemic I still made it a priority to talk directly to our members on the ground. I did this COVID-safe of course. But I knew how important it was that our members knew they weren’t alone.”
Weingarten’s contributions are acknowledged on a regular basis. She was named one of
Washingtonian’s 2021 Washington’s Most Influential People, City & State’s New
York’s 2021 and New York City Labor Power 100 lists, and Washington Life’s 2018 Power 100 list of Most Influential People.