Marvin Schuman, 94, of Elkins Park, a former Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president, died Tuesday, Feb. 11, at his home from complications of dementia.
Born in South Philadelphia to Herman Schuman and Regina Gottfried Schuman, Mr. Schuman grew up at Seventh and Mercy Streets, working in his parents’ clothing shop. He attended Philadelphia schools and graduated from South Philadelphia High School in 1942.
Mr. Schuman was drafted into the Army in 1943 and landed in Caen, France, three months after D-Day, serving under Gen. George S. Patton. Marching through France, Mr. Schuman suffered trench foot, a painful condition that caused circulatory and neuropathic issues for the rest of his life. He was discharged in 1945, after V-E Day.
After returning home, Mr. Schuman earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s in education at Temple University. In 1948, he began his career in the Philadelphia School District, teaching math at Stetson Junior High. In 1957, he moved to Frankford High, where he taught math for the remainder of his teaching career.
In 1960, Mr. Schuman was named vice president of the PFT executive board and also became a vice president for the state teachers union’s executive council. In the 1960s, teachers did not have collective bargaining power, and Philadelphia’s educators belonged to the Philadelphia Teachers Association. After the United Federation of Teachers won bargaining rights in New York in 1962, Philadelphia teachers chose to affiliate with the PFT and authorize it as their collective bargaining agent in 1965.
By 1973, Mr. Schuman was out of the classroom and working for the PFT full time, except for a brief stint in the classroom from 1981 until 1983.
The 1970s and ’80s were a tumultuous time for the union: Philadelphia teachers went on strike six times between 1970 and 1981, winning significant improvements in pay, benefits, and working conditions. Mr. Schuman was key to the negotiations.
Mr. Schuman was elected PFT president in 1983, succeeding John Murray as leader of the 20,000-member union. He served seven years as president, then worked for another year at PFT headquarters before retiring in 1991.
Some labor leaders are fiery; Mr. Schuman was low-key and calm, a good listener who earned the respect of his members and people on the other side of the negotiating table. And he never lost his math-teacher background. During bargaining sessions, others would use calculators to do arithmetic, but Mr. Schuman used paper and pencil.
“He could be very firm, but he was not bombastic,” said Irene Lefkovitz Schuman, his wife of 65 years. “He always had a lot of facts behind him.”
Jerry Jordan, the current PFT president, knew and admired Mr. Schuman, who he said projected an air of calm but still managed to be a shrewd negotiator.
“The things that we have today, we have them on the heels of the real work that Marvin did in order to fight for our rights,” Jordan said. “Marvin built a tremendous amount of respect for the PFT.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called Mr. Schuman “a beloved soul.”
“He was thoughtful, deliberate, and deeply kind,” Weingarten said in a statement. “I will remember his wonderful spirit fondly, as well as his remarkable contributions to our union. The people he led adored him, and he will be dearly missed.”
Constance E. Clayton, superintendent during Mr. Schuman’s time as PFT president, often found herself professionally at odds with him. But, she said, she respected him.
“In the final analysis, we recognized our responsibility to children and to the families who had entrusted their children to us,” Clayton said. “We were able to come to agreements.”
After his retirement, Mr. Schuman held leadership positions in the American Federation of Teachers-PA and PFT retirees chapters. He also served for 17 years as president of the board of Coventry House Co-op Apartments, where he lived.
Mr. Schuman loved music, gardening, reading, and playing bridge. He was a Phillies fan who enjoyed spending time with his family.
“He was a kind man,” said Irene Schuman, who also had a career as a Philadelphia teacher. “He would solve small problems here and large problems there — he did that for our building, he would do that for the union.”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by son Paul Schuman; daughters Nancy and Joan; and five granddaughters.