Political action, including legislative efforts, are vitally important to the welfare of our schools, our members and our union. Because education is a public function that is taxpayer-funded and regulated by the city and state — and to a lesser extent the federal government — it’s crucial for union members to be politically involved. Rights that we have won at the bargaining table can be weakened or nullified by legislation.
Legislative campaigns are a staple of our political work, and chapter leaders are important to their success. Every chapter should have a committee that is active in the union’s political work.
Organizing a legislative campaign
Elect or appoint a COPE/legislative representative for the chapter, along with a committee of assistants so that there is one person to cover each floor, department or lunch period. That way your team can reach everybody to distribute information and materials, to collect completed letters if you are doing a letter-writing campaign, and also to solicit COPE checkoff cards.
Make sure to pass on information from the union dealing with legislation to the legislative representative and his/her committee.
Be sure to follow UFT instructions in addressing letters to the chairperson of the committee considering a particular bill in each house, to legislators from each member’s home district, and to key people as directed by the UFT. Always identify bills by their bill numbers. Keep letters short, to the point and personal. Provide sample letters. AVOID FORM LETTERS.
Create a routine for writing letters. Devote one lunch period to it or set up a legislative corner with stationery and directions in the faculty lounges and workrooms. Have all the completed letters mailed by the school legislative committee. Keep track of members who have participated in your letter-writing effort.
A critical responsibility for you and your political action team is the collection of COPE payroll deduction cards from each member. COPE is an acronym for Committee on Political Education. COPE is the union’s political action arm. UFT members make voluntary contributions to COPE so that the union can make political contributions to candidates who share our concerns about education, human rights and labor issues. Members need to fill out only one card one time in their career. If they are returning from a leave, they should check their payroll stub to see if deductions are being made.
In addition to collecting COPE cards, it is important to encourage members to volunteer for the UFT’s telephone banks and other political activities.
For local (New York City) races — mayor, City Council, borough president, district attorney — recommendations are made to the UFT Executive Board and Delegate Assembly. For statewide and national races, recommendations are made to the NYSUT Board of Directors.
Generally, new people running for office are screened at the borough, district or city level. Incumbents’ voting records are very carefully scrutinized, as well as their activities in their home districts.