Edward J. McElroy




Retired teachers union official



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Edward McElroy is a career labor organizer and left-of-center activist. He was the president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the largest education sector union in the United States after the National Education Association (NEA), from 2004 until 2008 and remains affiliated with the AFT as president emeritus. Prior to his tenure as president, McElroy spent nearly 50 years as a teachers’ union official. 1

Background and Early Career

Edward McElroy was working as a social studies and English teacher in Warwick, Rhode Island when he was elected president of his local teacher’s union in 1967. Several years later, he became the president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, a position he held between 1977 and 1992. McElroy left the state presidency after being elected secretary-treasurer of the national federation. In 2001, he was elected to the executive council of the AFL-CIO, the largest association of labor unions in the United States and the parent organization of the AFT. In 2004, McElroy was elected president of the AFT, and remained in office until 2008. 2

Political Views

Edward McElroy has called for the organized labor movement to expand its involvement in politics. After his election to the AFT presidency in 2004, McElroy called on the union’s members to become more politically engaged. He also disputed accusations that teachers’ unions were not sufficiently committed to improving public education, claiming that more powerful unions were necessary to create positive changes in schools. 3

No Child Left Behind Act

McElroy’s tenure as president of the AFT overlapped with the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) under the administration of President George W. Bush. The NCLBA implemented new federal standards of accountability for public schools, including an expansion of standardized testing and the possibility of penalties for schools that failed to show improvement. 4 When McElroy was elected to the AFT presidency in July 2004, he disparaged the law, calling many of its provisions “arbitrary and unreasonable.” The union’s executive council backed McElroy’s position, issuing a demand to Congress and the Department of Education to change what it described as the NCLBA’s “unreasonable rules and regulations.”

One of McElroy’s first initiatives was coordinating the union’s response to the NCLBA. In 2005, Education Week described McElroy’s stance on the law as supportive of its basic foundations while criticizing what he viewed as problems with it. The publication also cited a union-friendly education expert who gave a neutral assessment of McElroy’s leadership during his first year in office, calling him “kind of a black box” and claiming that he had neither backtracked nor moved forward on major issues. 5

In September 2007, McElroy criticized the NCLBA’s alleged effects on public schools, claiming that “teachers have faced increased pressure” to “teach the test,” which he claimed left them with less time to teach subjects such as history, science, art, and music. 6

AFL-CIO Endorsement

McElroy has been a member of the executive councils of both the AFT and its parent organization, the AFL-CIO. In August 2008, the executive council of the AFL-CIO recognized McElroy for his career labor activism. The council released a statement praising McElroy for his work on organizing pressure campaigns aimed at elected representatives, as well as for his efforts to increase collaboration between the AFT and the NEA on areas of shared interest. 7


  1. “Edward J. McElroy.” American Federation of Teachers. Accessed January 17, 2022.
  2. “Edward J. McElroy.” American Federation of Teachers. Accessed January 17, 2022.
  3. Linda Jacobson. “AFT Leader Says Strong Union Needed Now More Than Ever.” Education Week. July 12, 2005. Accessed January 17, 2022.
  4.  Andrew M.I. Lee, JD. “What is No Child Left Behind (NCLB)?” Understood. Accessed January 17, 2022.
  5. “Bush praises city schools, pushes No Child Left Behind.” News 12 Connecticut. September 26, 2007. Accessed January 17, 2022.
  6. “Bush praises city schools, pushes No Child Left Behind.” News 12 Connecticut. September 26, 2007. Accessed January 17, 2022.
  7. “Ed McElroy.” American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizers. Accessed January 17, 2022.
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