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Cover Story: The most important day in PSEA history

Voice: March 2018

It was a typical early March day in Pennsylvania – cold and dreary throughout the state.

But what happened in Harrisburg on that day 50 years ago was anything but ordinary. And, unlike the weather, it certainly wasn’t downcast.

“I consider March 4, 1968, the most important day in PSEA history,’’ said Marylou Stefanko, an elementary teacher in the North Hills School District, Allegheny County, and a PSEA board member. “It was the day we knew we had a union; we had solidarity.’’

The organization that would become PSEA, the Pennsylvania State Teachers Association, was actually founded 116 years earlier and had played a major role in the formation and growth of public education in the state – compulsory school attendance laws, a state school code, vocational schools, and the formation of teacher training colleges.

But for all the gains it made for students, something important was missing.

Teachers had no collective bargaining rights, and they were growing restless with conditions like low pay that forced many of them to work two jobs; cost female teachers their jobs if they became pregnant; no say in curriculum; and no guaranteed lunch periods.

Finally, enough was enough.

Stefanko was among 20,000 teachers from throughout Pennsylvania who flocked to the steps of the state Capitol on that March day 50 years ago to stage one of the most iconic and influential rallies in Pennsylvania history. Teachers who couldn’t make it to Harrisburg held equally impressive “mini rallies’’ in their communities.

Stefanko and others note that administrators were a major part of PSEA in those days and that, ironically, it was a principal from Johnstown, Joseph Standa, then PSEA president, who gave a fiery speech at a statewide meeting in which he urged teachers to “do something unprecedented.’’

They did and the rest, as they say, is history.

The rally, called “March Forth,’’ and the continued pressure afterward led to Act 195 in 1970, legislation that would give teachers collective bargaining rights.

Local associations negotiated contracts that vastly improved compensation packages, provided better working conditions, and gave teachers a say in curriculum and policy. PSEA started its Uni-Serv program to assist locals in bargaining and with workplace issues, and a political action committee, PSEA-PACE, was formed.

Education support professionals were eventually brought under the PSEA umbrella, and the Association would continue to this day to work toward the election of pro-public education candidates and for good education and professional policies.

“All of us who are a part of PSEA today owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who bravely put their careers on the lines during that era,’’ said PSEA President Dolores McCracken. “Fifty years later, their legacy endures.’’

For more on PSEA history, visit

Read the stories of those who participated in the rally

'The day we knew we had a union'

Marylou Stefanko

'My life was never the same'

Annette Palutis

'A game changer'

Butch Santicola

‘Times set the groundwork’

Dick Sterner

The legacy lives on: Educators still 'March Forth'

Solidarity: 'Passing the torch'

Jeff Ney

Workplace issues: 'We wouldn't have any of this'

Georgia Smee

Electoral politics: 'Party affiliation is secondary'

Joe Scheuermann

Legislative advocacy: 'It set the tone'

Christie Besack

Organizing: 'All in this together'

Sherry Bailey

The battle still rages

Fifty years after the historic rally in Harrisburg that brought about collective bargaining rights for educators, another historic battle looms before the U.S. Supreme Court to preserve what was fought for that day.