Adam Urbanski is the longtime president of the Rochester Teachers Association and vice president of the American Federation of Teachers. He is the director of the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN), an organization of teachers’ unions and teachers’ union members who advance left-wing and union-friendly education reforms. He is a former social studies teacher and university professor.
Urbanski was born in Poland in 1946 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1960. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Rochester in 1969. He then received a Ph.D. in American social history, also from the University of Rochester in 1975.
He began working in the Rochester School District in 1969 as a teacher.
Urbanski was first elected president of the Rochester Teachers Association in New York state in 1981. He was later elected vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
Urbanski first gained national attention in 1987 when he signed a new contract with the city of Rochester that substantially increased teacher salaries in exchange for a five-day increase in the working school year. The union also conceded to ending the practice by which seniority determined where a teacher would be assigned and agreed that each teacher would become responsible for a group of students and provide counseling, home visits, and other services. As early as 1991, however, the Rochester reforms were under threat, and Urbanski’s union rejected a new contract that included additional performance incentives.
In 2007, Rochester hired Jean-Claude Brizard as superintendent of schools. Brizard tried to implement education reform ideas championed by former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor and charter school supporter Michelle Rhee and others. Brizard and Urbanski became bitter enemies, and the Rochester Teachers Association gave an overwhelming vote of no confidence in Brizard. Brizard left Rochester in April 2011 to become chief executive of Chicago Public Schools. 
Criticism of Education Reform and Retirement
In more recent years, Urbanski has been critical of education reform ideas. In 2014, he wrote an op-ed opposing New York State’s proposed reforms to teacher tenure that would restrict the practice. In 2015, he announced his opposition to other reforms proposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) which would increase the use of standardized testing to assess teacher performance and allow an outside takeover of failing schools. Urbanski claimed that Cuomo’s reforms were part of a plot to dismantle public schools in the country.
Later in 2015, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle editorial board called for Urbanski’s resignation. The paper denounced Urbanski and his union for dominating the Rochester school board. It also blasted Urbanski for being a defender of the city’s failing public schools.
In 2017, Urbanski repudiated his prior support for charter schools in an interview with In These Times, a pro-labor union publication. Instead, he said that traditional public schools could be “leaders of change.” AFT president Randi Weingarten also declared her support for Urbanski and TURN’s ideas in that interview.
Urbanski has since retired from the Rochester School District but he remained president of the Rochester Teachers Association. He had not taught full time in 29 years; instead, he was paid to head the teachers’ union. He says being retired would help him negotiate a better contract for teachers.
Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN)
Also see Teacher Union Reform Network (Nonprofit)
In 1995, Urbanski co-founded Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN), a labor union-backed group that seeks to engage local teachers’ unions in support of union-backed education reform. TURN had the backing of the national leadership of both the AFT and the National Education Association. In 1999, Urbanski even praised charter schools, while declaring his opposition to government-funded support for private school choice. TURN is closely affiliated with the left-of-center education advocacy group Consortium for Educational Change, which has received substantial funding from the Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Joyce Foundation.