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New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) was created in 1972 by the merger of the New York State Teachers Association (NYSTA) and the United Teachers of New York (UTNY). NYSTA had been affiliated with the National Education Association (NEA), and UTNY with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). UTNY was the statewide organization whose United Federation of Teachers (UFT), led by Albert Shanker, was the predominant teachers' union in New York City. In joining with United Teachers and affiliating with the AFT, NYSUT also became a member union of the AFL-CIO.

In 1976, NYSUT voted to disaffiliate with the NEA. Some locals left NYSUT and created the NYEA (New York Educators Association), which became the state affiliate for the NEA. In the early 1980s, NYEA changed its name to NEA-NY.

NYEA/NEA-NY viewed association with the AFL-CIO's industrial unions as undermining the professional image and independence of teachers. The two organizations also differed strongly on aspects of the governance structure, particularly with respect to ethnic minority representation, with NYSUT opposed to mandatory minimums. The rivalry between NYSUT and NYEA/NEA-NY in organizing new locals expended a great deal of resources for both labor organizations.

While competition with NYEA/NEA-NY was a constant focus of NYSUT's organizing efforts for teachers, NYSUT was also organizing college faculty members, nurses, and other non-teaching personnel. Once members were organized, NYSUT continued to advocate for teachers' and other workers' rights through contract support and legal services at the local level and political involvement at the state and federal levels, supporting candidates and legislation that protected funding, due process, and working conditions.

NEA-N Y merged with NYSUT in 2006, by which time NYSUT had grown to more than half a million members, becoming the largest union in New York State.