“My mission as chapter leader is to make my members understand how dangerous these times are and to realize all they stand to lose if we do nothing,” Valentin explained. “So my job is to educate members who know nothing about COPE and to convince jaded members that doing nothing is not an option.”
The Committee on Political Education (COPE) is the UFT’s political action arm. It is entirely funded by voluntary contributions from members.
To get the job done, Valentin is not just focusing on COPE’s importance at his regular chapter meetings but he’s walking around the building, going from member to member talking about the real threats to rights, benefits and pensions posed by a state constitutional convention and the threat of losing fair-share fees from nonmembers now in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I realize members are overloaded with emails so I decided to talk individually with each of my members about what we should all be talking about these days,” he said.
Valentin said he makes sure members understand that because, by law, unions cannot use any union dues money for political action, COPE was created to strengthen the UFT’s position as a player in the political arena and to fend off the mounting attacks against all unions.
Valentin, a special education teacher for 22 years, has been chapter leader for two years but served an eight-year apprenticeship as a delegate. He believes an unintended consequence of his walking the building is that members have more confidence in him.
Sharon Maier, an 8th-grade social studies teacher at MS 51, describes Valentin as “incredibly proactive in making sure we know our rights.” The higher COPE contributions, she said, are but one marker of his success in building the chapter.
“Joe is working hard and it’s paying off,” she said.