Monday, February 12, 2024

Viewing and Funeral Service for James Eterno

On Monday, February 19, 2024, we gather to honor the memory of James Eterno, a remarkable individual who left an indelible mark on the educational landscape and the hearts of those who knew him. James, a retired educator and passionate union activist, dedicated his life to advocating for the rights of teachers and students.

Viewing and Prayer Service

Date: Monday, February 19, 2024
  • Viewing: 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM
  • Prayer Service: 7:00 PM
  • Location: Martin A. Gleason Funeral Home, 149-20 Northern Blvd, Flushing, NY 11354

Funeral Service and Interment

On Tuesday, February 20, 2024, we come together once more to bid farewell to James and lay him to rest.
  • Funeral Service: 12:00 PM
  • Location: St. John’s Cemetery, 80-01 Metropolitan Ave, Middle Village, NY 11379
James Eterno’s impact extended far beyond the classroom. His dedication, resilience, and love for his community will forever resonate. As we gather to honor him, let us reflect on the lessons he taught us and the passion he instilled in our hearts.

May his memory be a blessing and may his legacy live on.

In Loving Memory of James Eterno

It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of our dear friend and colleague, James Eterno, on February 6, 2024. James was a cherished member of our community, and his absence will be deeply felt.

James’ life was marked by his unwavering dedication to education and his tireless advocacy for teachers and students alike. His contributions to the ICE-UFT blog have been invaluable, and his insights and wisdom will be sorely missed.

In honor of James’ memory, we would like to invite all who knew him to share their anecdotes and memories of James. Whether it’s a story that makes you smile, a lesson he taught you, or simply a sentiment about what James meant to you, we welcome your contributions.

Please submit your anecdotes and memories to Jeff Kaufman at Jeff will be compiling these tributes and sharing them on the ICE-UFT blog, as a testament to the remarkable impact James had on all of us.

In these difficult times, let us come together to remember James, to celebrate his life, and to carry forward the values and principles he held dear.

Thank you for your contributions. Your words will help keep James’ spirit alive in our hearts and in our community.

With deepest sympathy,

Jeff Kaufman

James Eterno: Mentor, Friend, Inspiration


It is the day of a UFT Delegate Assembly sometime in 2013. James Eterno looks over at me and says “you’re motivating the resolution..” He wrote it. I helped a bit, but it was his idea. It is my first time speaking at the DA. I’m excited and nervous at the same time. A lot of old timers who had been in the union for over twenty years, our union leadership, and all my comrades in opposition are looking on. Mulgrew points to me. Oh no! But James has prepped me and I am ready. One of the earliest memories of my relationship with James Eterno.

I started with “Good morning everyone.” President Mulgrew laughed and said “you meant good afternoon.” I replied “for those of us in school all day, it feels like one long morning.” The room broke up laughing. I looked at James next to me, who was hysterical. Later Norm Scott would say “You’re a natural you know how to win people over,” but my confidence was built on the preparation with James.

The resolution called for the UFT to reject any evaluation system based on test scores, a major plank of the education deform movement, which the UFT leadership, ironically, supported, and our MORE Caucus rejected. Our side of the room was cheering while the front-center, dominated by Unity Caucus members and UFT staff, was hissing and mocking.

When the first UFT staffer rose to speak against me, James immediately called a point of order. He carried a pocket size Robert's Rules of Order with him. I had no clue what a parliamentarian was, nor Robert's rules, and absolutely no clue what a point of order was. James was the master and he asked, in his cunning, working class New York City accent: “Can we at least have a classroom teacher, someone actually working in a school, speak against this?” Our crew cracked up. It was classic James, always ready with an answer. Quick, smart, with knowledge of the contract and Robert's Rules, like a rabbi knows the Torah. The contract was James’ Torah.

When he was done arguing with the parliamentarian, James came right over to me and said, “Great job Mike, you were amazing today”. No compliment made me feel better than one from James. We may have won a few people over that day and it was the first of many resolutions we would write together.

Thanks to James’s mentoring and support, what could have been an embarrassing experience that might have made me gun-shy in the future, instead, built my confidence as an activist. Needless to say neither James nor I made many friends in the Unity Caucus that day. But James helped me discover a relaxed way of addressing even hostile forces in a manner that has worked for me over the past ten years.

James was a thorn in the side not only of union leadership, but even our comrades as well. It was fine to disagree with him and Norm. Boy did we disagree. We’re New Yorkers and trade unionists. Our disagreements may be a bit loud for others, but it was how we communicated. We never got mad, never hurt each other, and always laughed about it the next day.

He had the unique ability to get under your skin but still make you love him at the same time. I think everyone knew he was coming from a good place, a love for our public schools and union. Over the years our debates made me a better union organizer and human being. He taught me you can disagree but be civil. On any union or contract question in my school he was my go-to. He was a lot of people’s go-to for his encyclopedic knowledge and the process of collective bargaining.

Having a mentor like James Eterno had a major impact on so many people. Read the many comments on the ICE blog. After all, he was the chapter leader of one of the largest high schools in Queens, Jamaica High School. He served for a dozen years on the UFT Executive Board with New Action Caucus and then the Independent Caucus of Educators (ICE), which had merged with TJC and others to form MORE in 2012. That was when I first got involved in union politics. Outside of Randi Weingarten or Michael Mulgrew, James was one of the only UFT people recognized citywide.

Needless to say, ICEers are devastated by the news of James' illness and death. ICE, whose open meetings always revolved around some kind of food - people don’t fight as much when they are not hungry - continued to meet as an informal dinner group over the years. I was invited and made to feel very comfortable in what seemed to be a group with a sense of family that still resonates. Camille and James would often attend, sometimes with their kids. Norm would dominate with his rice pudding and long drawn out sermons that James and Camille would laugh at days after the meeting ended. Camille always joked that anything Norm says starts with a comma and ends with the ‘68 strike. One hilarious meeting was when James, Camille and I argued against Norm as to whether we should run in an upcoming union election. We were livid with Norm. We won the debate and Norm, as always, ended up leading the cause he had spoken against.

We worked to win back Executive Board seats and celebrated when we finally brought one of James’ first UFT loves, New Action Caucus, which he had left in 2003, back into the opposition fold due to his willingness to reach out, forgive old grudges, and work together to win these seats. One of the best phone calls I ever received was from James telling me “Congratulations we won the Executive Board seats”, he was as excited as I was.

We were always planning, plotting, one strategy session after another. Often on daily chats and phone calls until he was felled by a stroke in May. We tried to keep MORE as a place for regular rank and file where everyone would feel welcome. We challenged the union leadership at DA’s, Executive Boards, district meetings, borough meetings, wherever and whenever there was a public platform. We challenged Unity on the state level at the 2014 NYSUT convention where James was a driving force, along with a local Long Island President Beth Dimino. James and my other UFT hero, Julie Cavanagh, decided I should be one of the two speakers along with Lauren Cohen representing MORE. Julie and James revised and edited the speeches (Video here.)

When we got pushed out of MORE, James was half “I told you so,” always a naysayer to the far left influences within the group, but also upset that so much of his work had been lost. He mended fences with key players in MORE along the way. Despite being very anti-Unity, he gave me his blessing to run with them when I had the opportunity. With James it was never personal, only political.

In the last few years James was a driving force in bringing the various UFT opposition groups together and forming the United for Change coalition of seven or so different union groups (not an easy feat) to run against Mulgrew and Unity. He willed it, even though these groups had different ideologies and personalities. His crowning moment came when his wife Camille, a fierce and outspoken unionist, was the 2022 UFT presidential candidate, echoing James’ 2010 presidential run against Mulgrew.

Although we ran on different slates, Camille, James and I had a hearty laugh on the night of the election results. Camille didn’t win, but we still enjoyed talking the night away. Our love for the UFT may have taken us down different paths, but it didn’t divide us.

Being part of a chat group that touched base regularly often made my day. When my mom died James and Camille joined the rest of the group in a Shiva call. Not hearing his voice almost daily over the past nine months has left a major gap. One good friend told me upon hearing of Jame’s death, “some of the people who work at UFT don’t love the union as much as James did”. No truer words have been spoken.

He was not only my good friend, but my mentor, my teacher, a fellow New Yorker, traveler, dad, husband, social studies teacher and dedicated unionist.

It’s been hard the last few months, since he got sick, to feel passionate about union work. Now that he has passed I wonder if that passion will ever return but just thinking of him and the work he did will inspire me.

I will miss James so much. I miss him more than these words can express. I loved him as a brother in arms.

Mike Schirtzer is a high school teacher in Brooklyn, longtime union activist and UFT executive board member. This post originally appeared on the Wire.

From Peter Lamphere

I first met James Eterno twenty years ago, when he, Ellen Fox and a few others took the courageous decision to leave the New Action Caucus because of their deal with then-UFT president Randi Weingarten. It was an exciting moment and led to the realignment of the UFT opposition. Even though James ended up in ICE and I was in TJC, I always had tremendous respect for him as a stalwart of the opposition movement, and we helped elect James to the executive board. 

James’ fight to save Jamaica High School was a model of how to resist neoliberal school reform. He effectively rallied the staff and the community to defend the Queens institution - as a young activist who was trying to keep my own school, Columbus in the Bronx, off the chopping block, I really admired his organizing ability and the tenacity of his fight. For years afterwards, as Jamaica teachers were scattered to the four winds across Queens, I spoke to many veterans who were always willing to distribute leaflets or help out in our struggles for a stronger union, out of loyalty and admiration for James.

No one in the union knew more about parliamentary procedure than James. He had read Roberts Rules a number of times and was always suggesting new strategies to try - I have relied on his advice many times on how to successfully challenge the leadership on the floor in the delegate assembly. In particular he always reminded the president, whether Mulgrew or Weingarten, that they had to alternate between sides of a debate and give both sides time to express themselves.

James and I differed tremendously about strategy in the fight for a better UFT. I was saddened when he left MORE even if the split felt inevitable given the differences. And you always new that James was honest and open about his disagreements, and motivated only by a desire for a stronger labor movement and a better world. And he was always willing to work together to fight for what was right. 

New York City teachers will be weaker for the loss of this tremendous fighter. And our hearts go out to his Camille and his family. I know James was looking forward to years of happy retirement with them and that was tragically cut short.

In Solidarity, 


Thursday, February 08, 2024

From a Retired HS Teacher

I was very sorry to hear about James’ passing. 

May he Rest in Peace.

I'm a fan of and subscriber to James' ICEUFT Blog. 

I only met James twice in person near the front door on the evenings of contentious meetings at Jamaica HS regarding closure. I never knew James when I was a student at Jamaica HS since I graduated in the early 1970s, and he didn't arrive until the mid 1980s. 

Prior to the breakup into small schools, he did me a favor and got someone to photograph my graduating class' plaque on the "Summa Cum Laude" board in the first-floor hall, and email it to me.

Sincere condolences to Camille and the family.

From Gustavo Medina

Sad news about the passing of James. 

My experience and fellow colleagues organizing Jamaica High School with the leadership of James was invaluable, a model for organizing public education in all the public schools in NYC, away from the union opportunist leaders. 

I work with James for almost twenty years. He new how to handle principals and teacher organizing. He had an art for communication. 

He was my friend and we worked together during school elections and city wide union elections. They were exciting times. And towards the end of Jamaica High School struggling to save it! 

Long live the memory of a union leader James Eterno. 

My condolences to Camille and family!

From Teacher James Hogue

I never met James Eterno and that is a great loss for me. I have only spoken to him several times over the phone.

Despite his support for the Vaccine mandates, he assisted me when the NYC DOE tried to force me to comply with it. Yes, I am still unvaccinated. But this is not a forum to discuss that.

I just want to say thank you to a real friend. There aren't many people who can put disagreements like that off to the side and not have it impact the friendship.

Whenever I had a question about the union, 3020A, or DOE, he was there. God bless him.

He will be sorely missed.

James Hogue,

From James Mills

I met James about a decade ago at a boisterous ATR meeting. He gave a powerful speech and I was very impressed. 

That was the only time I met him. We stayed in contact at least once a month and often much more. Over the years he advised me on matters big and small. I also sent many teachers to him - especially those who had already made a less than satisfying visit to the UFT. 

He helped everyone. We also debated historical events, figures and even music frequently via email and occasionally on the ICE blog. He never got angry. He respected all viewpoints - even those that at best would be considered politically incorrect. His non-judgmental style was admirable and almost unique among the teachers I knew. He was always the voice of reason, and coupled with action - he was a force of nature. 

James was a perennial optimist that has deeply affected many people and will continue to do so. 

Still, I will miss him. Goodbye James.

Jim Mills

My memory of James

I had the blessing of having James as part of my extended family. 

When I first returned to work after a 10 year child-care leave, I had issues with a difficult principal and a district that did not have record of my tenure.  When my unity union leadership gave up on my plight, James came through and solved the issue.  

I became chapter leader under the same difficult principal. I wouldn't have survived without James' input.  James was the most selfless, dedicated union leader I knew in the DOE. He has left a cavernous hole that I hope will be filled. Without challenge and discourse, a powerful union can go astray. 

He was one of a kind. I miss him.

Alycia Morell

Passing of James Eterno

I would like to express my sadness on the passing of James Eterno.  

James was a powerful figure in the union.  He was a terrific chapter leader who fought so hard for the members at Jamaica High School.  

When Bloomberg wanted to close Jamaica, he fought hard to save that great school.  While he spoke out forcefully for his belief of what actions the union should take, he did so in a civil and intelligent way.

 After the Janus decision when certain people would write on his blog that we leave the union, James spoke out forcefully against this.  He said that his ICE blog was a union blog, and his writings were to improve the union.  I will miss the insight he gave me in conversations I had with him.

My prayers are with Camille his two children and other family members.  I know his beloved memory will be an inspiration for his family.

Michael Friedman

From Adam C Bergstein

James was a truly awesome human being. 

He was a dedicated father and husband and the baddest motherfucking union rep I have ever met. He helped me and my school get rid of a tyrannical principal and he always supported me with whatever information or guidance I sought. 

He will truly be missed; there will never be another.

Adam C Bergstein 

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

From Chapter Leader Georgia Lignou

This is what the Chapter Leader at Bryant High School shared with her school staff.

Dear Colleagues,

I know you are dealing with a lot, and I do not want to burden you with grief. However, yesterday we all lost a brother when James Eterno passed away.

Very few of you knew him personally, but he has done a lot for us all. He was a teacher for many years and a Union activist. In fact, he has attended a couple of our chapter Meetings in the past. He served as a Chapter Leader in Jamaica HS, and he was a member of the UFT Executive Board for many years. He knew that new ideas come from conversations and disagreements, so he was a founding member of the ICE-UFT caucus and ran the ICE-UFT Blog for many years and in the last UFT election he helped organize the United for Change coalition to ran in opposition to the Unity caucus governing the UFT since its beginning.

James knew the contract in and out and every single Chancellor’s Regulation and he was there every time I needed information, support, advice, guidance, or somebody to vent about the frustrating position of a Chapter Leader caught between a heavy-handed administration and an intimidated chapter. Generous with his time, he answered the phone even if he was in the middle of helping his children with homework and their evening routines, and he posted whatever I wrote and sent him for the blog. I will be forever grateful to him, and I feel lucky and honored to have met him.

I am sharing this with you because he is an example of activism. People like him since the formation of our union have carried the weight for most of us who are afraid to even take an anonymous survey or voice an opinion in a meeting. Thank you, James! May you rest in peace and still be able to watch over the beautiful family you left behind.

My condolences to his family and his loved ones.

Georgia Lignou

From Richard Wieda

I am saddened to hear of James' passing.

I learned so much from James - about the DOE, unions, politics, organizing, and dealing with adversity.

He was kind enough to let me fill in a few times at ICEUFT blog after I had retired my own blog and needed to get something out. 

He was a giant in the union and a giant in education blogging. 

His loss is too great to be measured. 

From Patrick Walsh

James was one of those very rare souls whose mere presence made one sharper, braver, and better. 

May he be at peace.

At last at peace . 

From Daniel Alicea

James has no parallel. The man lived and breathed The Contract. 

But what I admired most about him was his deep love and commitment to his wife, Camille and his children Kara and Matt. He beamed most when he spoke of them. 

In countless online meetings, James multitasked. While he was participating or listening in … his focus would often be in helping both kids with their homework.

That to me was a testament to the man.

From Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters

I got to know James first because of his strong advocacy for smaller classes, and support for the work of Class Size Matters.

I got to know him even better through his valiant efforts to save Jamaica HS from closing in 2009-2010.

He organized and spoke up at rallies, the PEP, and City Council hearings, the last I recall where he brought students to testify why the school should be saved.

James was one of the most vital, energetic, courageous, intelligent, and compassionate people I have ever met.  He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.  My deepest sympathy goes to his family.

I have written more about him on my blog here.

From Patricia Dobosz

My sincere and heartfelt condolences go out to Camille and her children. 

James Eterno was a legend. I always learned so much from him at ICE meetings and reading his blog.

Although I didn’t know him well, I admired how he fought to keep Jamaica HS open and the love that poured out for his advocacy. 

May he rest in peace. I’ll be keeping Camille and family in my prayers. 


From Ben Morgenroth

I am deeply saddened to hear of James's recent passing. 

I don't think James and I ever crossed paths in person, but several times I was given his name and contact information as a knowledgeable source of information. He was always willing to chat on the phone, was smart, knowledgeable, and supportive. He had good ideas that were always realistic. 

I am grateful for his guidance and his presence will be deeply missed.


Ben Morgenroth

A Teacher Advocate

He was always advocating for teachers. 

Always kind and generous with advice and teaching materials. 

I shared a space with him in the basement of Jamaica High School. He shared teaching materials and we bounced off ideas together. He was a true role model of what a great teacher and a kind human being is. He was a man of action , highest integrity.

So sorry to hear he is gone. My condolences to his wife Camille and their children. 

Ellen Frank Bayer

James and the Little White Book

James was truly a power of example on many levels. The image that I hold of him is when he would take out that book. I don't know if it was in his back pocket or a bag or wherever. But if you asked him anything related to that contract that he didn't already know off the top of his comes that little white book.

James, I want to thank you for all that you've done for all of us. I also want to thank you for the blog. 

I would like to offer my condolences to his wife, his children and his entire family.


Michelle Baptiste

From Virginia, CoCo, and Iju Lazzaro

Rest in peace James Eterno. 

He was a true leader. 

He gently guided me to share and value my ideas. My kids and I will forever miss him. (CoCo and lju  love role playing; they used to get into huge arguments because they both wanted to play James Eterno) 

All our love to you; beautiful Camille and to those two amazing warriors, Kara and Matthew Eterno.

From John Elfrank-Dana

I was so happy to know I’d still be working with James when he came on to Hunter to do field observations with us a few years ago I recommended him because I knew him to be a first class educator. In addition to be a terrific father, husband, and union rep. His example will continue to inspire me and many others. His courageous wife and children are as blessing to all of us. For I know they will continue to make this world a better place.

Tonight, I lift a glass to James.

Holding Camille and family in The Light.


From Former Chapter Leader Denise Fryburg

I never knew James personally, but he has always been a source of encouragement and inspiration toward the hope of fundamental change in the UFT. My deepest heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.

From David Pecoraro

My condolences to Camille and the rest of the Eterno family.

James was a fighter. While we didn't agree on all aspects of union policy, I would like to believe we shared the same ferocity to protect our respective staffs.

In the end he helped fight for my school and I helped fight for his. Because that is what a union is all about.

From Michael Fiorillo

It’s hard to fully express, let alone overstate, the loss that James Eterno’s passing represents. 

He was a Man, a Mensch, in the fullest sense of the word: a dedicated teacher, mentor, organizer and comrade, a trade unionist in the most comprehensive way that term can be understood. And first and foremost a loving father and husband.

On a personal level, I will never forget James and his beautiful wife Camille when, in addition to the True North of their integrity and commitment to teachers and workers, they showed tremendous kindness to me during a period of my own grievous loss. They will always have a place in my heart, and I am going out right now to light a candle in his memory.

James Eterno - friend, father, husband, teacher, comrade - Presente!

Even Though I Never Met Him!

I never met James, but read his blog religiously. When I was considering running for chapter leader in the spring of 2021, I emailed James unsolicited for advice, and he gave it.

After being elected chapter leader, I reached out for guidance about filing an operational complaint against my principal, and again James gave me advice. Then, through negotiation I got my staff (at least) a partial remote day. Something that wouldn't have happened if I just listened to my district rep. When I emailed James later to let him know how things turned out he congratulated me for "getting something out of nothing".

James was a wealth of information, and his blog remains one. He held leadership accountable but now there is one less voice left to "do the work".

During the start of my fifth year teaching I was excessed. As a special education teacher, this was shocking, but the worst part was finding out my role wasn't even replaced. My school was able to get by completely without me. You can put in all the time in the world to make the school day a little more special for your students, but in the end we're cogs, and when one pops out, another one goes in. A disheartening realization, but a realistic one.

I mention this because James is far from replaceable, and the opposite of a cog! The UFT has lost a member of value, a transformative leader, one who stood up for all of us, and I will miss James even though I never met him.

Mike Muntner

From Kathy Forrestal

I first met James Eterno when I was a student at Jamaica (class of 1994).  He and I arrived at the school about the same time, I later learned.  

I never had him as a teacher but learned so much from him all the same. He and I reconnected to fight against Jamaica's closure, and when I later decided to make a career change into teaching, he supported me every step of the way.  

He offered advice, allowed me to observe his class for many of my required hours, and connected me with other great teachers to observe, as well.  

One of my favorite memories of that time was when I shared one of his teaching activities in my graduate class without naming the school.  My classmates were so impressed, and then so confused when I told them where I'd done my observations.  I remember students spending free periods in his college office, with him supporting them and mentoring them as learners and people.  

He was an amazing and dedicated teacher and was proof the DOE was wrong when it closed Jamaica with negative comments about the teaching staff.  Once I started student teaching and teaching, we stayed in touch for a while, with him continuing to offer me support.  I regret that we lost touch and that I never told him how much all his support meant to me.  

I know I will never forget him and will be eternally grateful to him for all that he taught me.  

From Carol Lucchesi

I was lucky to know James through his writings, emails and finally got to meet him and his beautiful family at the SOS Save Our Schools March in Washington many years ago.  His youngest was still in a stroller, but they were there to support public education on that hot day in July!

No one knew the contract like James.  He should have been UFT president!  

But he was also a dedicated teacher first and foremost.  He fought hard to keep Jamaica HS open.  He and others were instrumental in turning the school around.   But Bloomberg got his way!   

After his retirement he joined the fight to keep our Medicare.   

My heart goes out to his family, friends and everyone who knew and loved him.

Please let me know I can contribute to his memory.  

My deepest sympathy,
Carol Lucchesi

My memories of James Eterno

I started reading the ICE blog in June 2013 to pass time when I was reassigned to Fordham Plaza after an OSI investigation filed against me by my principal. Thankfully my charges were dropped and my record was cleared. I like to not think about my time in the reassignment center but I will always remember the lessons I learned from reading the ICE blog that spring and summer. James' work helped me gain a greater appreciation and fascination with union politics and union history. It propelled me to write my Masters thesis on UFT history, the evolution of due process and the grievance procedure.

I met James at an ICE Meeting in 2014. I was with two colleagues and we were announcing to ICE that we were creating new caucus (UFT Solidarity) focused on bread-and-butter workplace issues and correcting malfeasance in the UFT leadership. I don't remember what I said, I only remember a lot of shouting back and forth and James' kind warmth toward myself and my friends. While we didn't win ICE's support in '14, we did win the individual respect of James and his wife, Camille.

I can credit many UFT activists for teaching me how to organize members around common concerns, how to co-run a caucus, how to work together with different groups, and how to help UFT members on the best and worst days. James modeled all this with patience and grace. James supported UFT Solidarity's campaign in 2019 and believed in me as a unionist. James supported my candidacy as UFT President in 2019 and my run (and very brief tenure) as a High School Executive Board member in 2022. 

While I am no longer in the NYC Department of Education or involved in UFT politics anymore, I can look back upon my hard work serving educators in NYC with pride because of what James modeled through his compassion, empathy and care. The opposition movement will remain viable and strong thanks to the roots James planted. However, the UFT has lost one of the greats and that is tragic. James Eterno was one in a million and while he cannot be replaced, his light will always shine.

Solidarity forever!

Lydia Howrilka