The late George Altomare, Alice O’Neil and Doris Meyer presenting playwright Seamus Scanlon, right, with an award at the UFT Irish Committee's annual heritage celebration in 2019. [Photo by Peter McDermott]

UFT to honor founder Altomare

Longtime labor activist and teacher George Altomare, who died on Aug. 20, 2023, at age 92, will be remembered by the UFT Irish Committee at its annual heritage celebration on Feb. 29, starting at 4 p.m. on the 19th floor of 52 Broadway, Downtown Manhattan. (RSVP to dorismeyer at aol dot com.)

Don Meade will be presented with the Champion of Irish Traditional Music award at the same event.

Altomare, who always led the singing of “Solidarity Forever” over many years at UFT Irish Committee events, was introduced usually on such occasions as the “man who went to jail with César Chavez.” 

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The following is an obituary and appreciation by the United Federation of Teachers, which him as a “a founder of the UFT who led with insight, devotion and a great deal of heart.”


George Altomare loved teaching and dedicated his life to improving public school education for New York City students and educators through the power of unionism.

“He was our historian, our elder statesman and our union troubadour,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “At union meetings over the decades, we could count on George to pull out his guitar and lead us in singing ‘Solidarity Forever.’”

When the city and the union could not reach an agreement, George helped lead the 1967 mass walkout which resulted in a fair contract. 

George began his teaching career in 1953 as a social studies teacher at Astoria JHS. Frustrated by the poor pay and abysmal working conditions at the school, George and his school colleague Albert Shanker invited the Teachers Guild to meet with the educators.

It was a challenge to organize teachers, since many thought of themselves as professionals and felt that “labor was beneath their dignity,” said retired member John Soldini, the former UFT vice president for academic high schools.

George, as a secondary school teacher, was able to recruit high school teachers, who were better paid at that time, into the elementary school-dominated Teachers Guild, to create the UFT in 1960.

“His ability to get people to work with each other, for each other and in order to gain the same goals was great. His energy was great, too — he devoted all his after-school time to this,” said former union treasurer Mel Aaronson, also a UFT founder. “Without George, there would be no UFT.”

George leads the audience in a round of “Solidarity Forever” at the end of the union’s annual Spring Education Conference. 

George held both advisory and elected positions for the union over the decades. He created and led the UFT Strike Committee and Organizing Network, which led to successful strikes in the 1960s and ‘70s. He served as the union’s vice president for high schools for 25 years, and he helped negotiate DOE-UFT contracts through 1985.

George organized the borough representative, district representative and chapter leader system the UFT uses today, Aaronson said. He was “meticulous” in his organizing, using a Delaney card system to record information for every school, Aaronson recalled.

George also worked extensively to support other unions. In the 1960s, he went to jail for civil disobedience with United Farm Workers leaders César Chavez and Dolores Huerta after a union protest.

“George was there in the beginning and was active up until the very end, so this union is forever in his debt,” said UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr. “He not only connected union activists to the UFT but to the union movement.”

George helped found the UFT Retired Teachers Chapter and served for many years as the chapter’s secretary.

George also helped create the union’s professional committees, which he led until 2019. If there was a committee a member wanted to start, he was encouraging and would show up to all meetings in support, said Roberta Eisenberg, the chairperson of the Math Teachers Committee. “George was always about service to our members,” she said.

Mario Asaro, the chair of the New York City Art Teachers Association/UFT said his own activism and dedication to the UFT was directly related to George. “George was a mentor, leader and friend,” he said.

Liza Miller Davis was one of George’s students at Stuyvesant HS, where George last taught. “His enthusiasm and love of all people made him a great teacher,” she said.

Peter Yarrow, of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, collaborated with George on a school anti-bullying initiative. “I loved working with George,” said Yarrow. “He was an intrepid organizer, a bright spark, and he had a huge and passionate heart for the good of people and the ethical education of students.”

In addition to his devotion to the UFT and the labor movement, George loved music and playing the guitar. Over the course of his teaching career, he worked at Astoria JHS, Franklin K. Lane HS and Stuyvesant HS, and he was an adjunct professor at SUNY Empire State College.

George is survived by his longtime partner, Vera Campbell.