Threats to job and retirement security, diminishing political support for essential programs and services, and attacks on public education and health care professionals make VOTE-COPE, the statewide union's voluntary political action fund, all the more essential, union leaders say.
"I tell people, because of VOTE-COPE, you have a job," said Kevin Peterman, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College.
It's particularly true at Suffolk, where political action success has provided remarkable gains.
With a supportive county government, the school has been able to avoid retrenchment by filling positions of retiring faculty members. And, this summer, county lawmakers, by a unanimous vote, approved $130 million in capital projects for the college.
"VOTE-COPE is about educating people. That's what it stands for — political education," Peterman said. "We get our support from the state and from the county, and, like it or not, we've got to be at the table. VOTE-COPE puts us at the table."
The goal of VOTE-COPE is "to protect our professions, the institutions in which our members work, and the people our members serve, through grassroots lobbying," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta.
Funds — which rely on donations and do not come from dues — are put to work to lobby for pro-NYSUT member legislation, to elect candidates who understand the importance of education and health care and who support the values of the organized labor movement, and to help pass school budgets.
VOTE-COPE funds are also at work defeating dangerous voucher and parent-trigger proposals that would undermine public schools.
The strength of the fund is more important than ever as NYSUT members still face serious challenges to their professions.
The fiscal collapse of 2008 and the onerous tax-cap law of 2010 have led to the loss of jobs for tens of thousands of members. New pension tiers — 5 and then 6 — have altered the landscape and horizon for younger members beginning their careers.
"We need to pass legislation to end the testing madness in this state," said Pallotta. "VOTE-COPE helps us raise our political voice for change."
DID YOU KNOW
- VOTE-COPE stands for Voice of Teachers for Education (VOTE) and Committee on Political Education (COPE). NYSUT combined the two non-partisan political education campaigns in 1973.
- VOTE-COPE activities are funded entirely through voluntary contributions from members.
- During election campaigns, NYSUT calls on members to help, especially in telephone bank solicitations for voter registration and to get out the vote for NYSUT-endorsed candidates.
- Support for candidates for public office is NOT determined by party affiliation but by a politician's record of support for union members' issues. Regardless of party, the critical issue is the level of commitment the candidate has demonstrated to union members and to quality service.
- NYSUT's advocacy is boosted by the Committee of 100, a statewide, grassroots network of member-volunteers. The name Committee of 100 refers to a group of NYSUT activists who first came to Albany in the 1970s to fight for greater state aid and for pension reforms. The Committee of 100 has grown to include more than 750 volunteers who make travel to Albany for political action.