These are volatile political times and public education is under attack. Reductions in state support for our schools and institutions of higher education are having a direct and serious impact on the programs and services we provide. The tax cap law put into place in 2011 will hamstring our future efforts to provide quality education in this state. Politics impacts every school district and public higher education institution, and the working conditions of every school employee, because laws and regulations affecting every member's terms and conditions of employment are passed by lawmakers and implemented by government agencies in Albany and Washington, D.C. The union's Legislative Department drafts, introduces and lobbies for bills affecting state aid to schools and colleges, licensure, tenure, occupational health and safety, education standards, health care, pension and retirement.
New NYSUT members should know that we welcome your involvement in political action. New members are often most at risk of layoffs in difficult fiscal times.
In the past, NYSUT secured legislation to establish an early retirement option for members and an incentive for public employees that will save money and jobs and allow members to retire earlier. In recent years the union has been able to stave off cuts to our schools, kill dangerous proposals such as vouchers in Albany, and protect tenure rights.
NYSUT lobbied for and won sweeping changes in the way violence is to be reduced in our schools. The groundbreaking Safe Schools legislation requires all school districts to establish codes of conduct to ensure that our schools are safe places in which to teach and learn.
NYSUT also secured legislation to guarantee automatic cost-of-living pension increases for its public sector retirees — even future retirees like you. State aid to our schools helps keep your class size down, invests in your professional development and keeps property taxes stable. A significant percentage of an average school district's budget is funded by the state and therefore working to secure additional state funding is an important goal for NYSUT.
NYSUT's Legislative Department lobbies state and federal representatives to help retain professional enhancements we fought for and won. Support for our public schools comes from the efforts of hundreds of grass-roots lobbyists. This statewide, grass-roots network of member-volunteers, called the Committee of 100, adds local political impact to NYSUT's effort. Members who want to influence issues directly affecting their lives, including pensions, job security, and health and safety, are encouraged to talk with their local president about becoming part of the Committee of 100. Members fighting for issues affecting their lives and schools is a proud tradition dating back to the mid-1970s, when a group of 100 local leaders came to Albany to fight for pension legislation. NYSUT strongly encourages each local to organize a political action team to meet with lawmakers, to be the core of letter-writing campaigns and to operate phone banks at school budget time and during the fall elections. This activity is coordinated by a network of political action members, one in each New York State Senatorial District.
The NYSUT Member Action Center, an online tool to connect a grassroots community of activists interested in education, healthcare and other issues affecting working people and families, also supports political action. Activists include classroom teachers, college and university faculty and professional staff, school bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, cafeteria workers, teacher assistants and aides, nurses, healthcare technicians, parents and more. All are dedicated to staying engaged, keeping informed and taking action on important issues. Visit the MAC at http://mac.nysut.org. Member support makes NYSUT's political action the most effective voice in politics. Your statewide union has a political fund-raising arm called VOTECOPE.
VOTE-COPE is NYSUT's non-partisan action fund that coordinates the voluntary contributions of members and supports NYSUT-endorsed candidates and campaign committees that are pro-public-education and pro-labor. No NYSUT dues dollars are used to support candidates or campaign committees. NYSUT sends rebates to local unions based on a percentage (up to 40 percent) of the contributions VOTE-COPE receives from that local union's members. Those rebates can be used in local activities such as school board races and for passage of school budgets. Last year, your colleagues contributed nearly $8 million to VOTE-COPE. Ask your local president how to participate.
Registering to Vote
We're a mobile society. The average NYSUT member moves several times in the course of his or her lifetime. Last year alone more than 50,000 NYSUT members switched residences.
One of the most important things to remember about moving is that it may affect your ability to exercise one of your most basic rights — the right to vote. NYSUT sends voter registration forms to new members and to individuals who have had a change of address. We encourage you to register to vote. We also think it's important to enroll in a political party — and it doesn't matter which one. Being involved in primary campaigns is often as important as voting in the general elections. You can get information online at www.elections.ny.gov/.
Voting in primary and general elections is essential to keeping our representative democracy healthy and strong. Volunteering to work in NYSUT phone banks and on political campaigns is critical if we are to exert influence beyond our classrooms, cafeterias and health care centers.
Voting on school budgets
So many of us live and work under the terms and conditions of employment collectively bargained with our public employer. It's important to support school district budgets and the programs and services we provide by being organized and showing support when the budgets come before the voters. We may not always work in the same school district we vote in, but voting to support school budgets helps each and every union member in your community. Our local unions frequently endorse candidates for election to local school boards. Be sure to support the pro-labor pro-public-education candidates on the ballot. Great programs and services often begin in the ballot box.
Benchmark Polling Group
NYSUT has a full-time polling center that operates to gather information about our profession from those in the profession. We frequently poll members on Regents exams, the effects of higher standards, the state and condition of our schools and the affordability of higher education. We want to know what you are thinking as NYSUT members, and the Benchmark Polling Group is but one more way to listen to your concerns and desires.
The Benchmark Polling Group will never try to sell you anything. We are trying to assess from our members the current state of public education in New York and who, if anyone, you prefer to vote for in elective offices.