Edward J. McElroy announced this week that he plans to retire as president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The head of the 1.4 million-member union since 2004, Mr. McElroy intends to step down at the AFT’s convention in July. So does the union’s second-in-command, Secretary-Treasurer Nat H. LaCour, who announced his retirement at the same time. (“Election Year Hints at Shifts for Unions,” Feb. 6, 2008.)
Mr. McElroy’s presidency has been marked by the union’s sharp opposition to important provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which the AFT greeted with reserved optimism after the law passed Congress with broad bipartisan support in 2001.
Often, however, Mr. McElroy has said he believes major changes are needed to the law, and in recent months he has been lobbying members of Congress to include those in the reauthorized version, including revisions to the formula by which schools’ progress is measured and to the requirements on “highly qualified” teachers.
Both as president and as secretary-treasurer of the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, a post he held for 12 years before his election to the top job, Mr. McElroy has pushed for members to increase their political activism and take advantage of the growing union’s potential clout at all levels of government.
Ups and Downs
The 67-year-old is known for his dedication to the wider union movement at home and abroad. He has been an active member of the AFL-CIO executive council. But he has not sought to lead on education issues in the manner of his immediate predecessor as president, the late Sandra Feldman, or the legendary Albert Shanker, who served before her.
During Mr. McElroy’s leadership, the union also went through some rough patches, such as the depletion of the New Orleans union after Hurricane Katrina, and the loss of the Puerto Rico affiliate, which decided to sever ties with the national union in 2005. Despite those losses, total membership increased during his tenure, with the union adding nearly 100,000 members over the past four years.
Before coming to Washington in 1992, Mr. McElroy was president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and the Rhode Island AFL-CIO. He began his career as a social studies and English teacher in Warwick, R.I.
Mr. LaCour, 70, has held the secretary-treasurer’s post since 2004. Before that, he was the first person to be elected, in 1998, to the newly created position of AFT executive vice president.
Earlier, he was president for 28 years of United Teachers of New Orleans. Mr. La- Cour has led the AFT Disaster Relief Fund, which has extended more than $2 million in aid to the union’s members who were victims of the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, the union’s largest local, is widely regarded as the most likely successor to Mr. McElroy when AFT delegates vote in Chicago in July.
A version of this article appeared in the February 20, 2008 edition of Education Week as Top Two Officials at AFT Won’t Run for Re-Election