VOTE-COPE Explained

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, NYSUT’s voluntary political action fund, all the more essential today.

These 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.

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 and NYSUT staff.

✔  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 travel to Albany for political action.


Q. What criteria are used by NYSUT to select candidates for endorsement?

A . The primary consideration is the candidate’s positions on educational and labor issues and, where the candidate is an incumbent, his or her voting record. The “record” could include information regarding sponsorship of NYSUT legislation, committee votes, and party caucus positions, if available. Other considerations include the leadership and/or committee responsibility of the incumbent legislator, and the ability of the challenger to be a viable candidate. A candidate’s relationship with local leaders and member constituents is given serious consideration in the endorsement process. A candidate’s public advocacy on behalf of our issues is a critical component in deciding whom to back.

Q. How does NYSUT determine a candidate’s stand on non-educational/labor issues such as abortion, gun control, etc.?

A.  It doesn’t. NYSUT’s membership represents a wide spectrum of political views. The only assumption which is made is that the great majority of our members agree on the basic NYSUT/AFL-CIO legislative programs. Consideration of other issues would most probably be divisive and counterproductive.

Q. What chance do NYSUT members get to provide input into the endorsement of local candidates?

A.  Endorsements may be initiated by a president of a local, or a member of the Board of Directors. These recommendations are discussed at a biennial Presidents’ Conference on Endorsements prior to their presentation to the NYSUT Board of Directors. See the next question for the process of endorsing candidates.

Q. What role do local presidents play in NYSUT endorsements?

A.  Local input on endorsement decisions is vital. The local president serves as the voice of each local’s membership. In order to ensure that the views of each local are heard, NYSUT conducts a Local Presidents Conference on Endorsements during the summer months, prior to each general election. Every local is invited to attend, and funding for travel and other expenses is provided to guarantee that financial considerations do not prevent any local from being represented. At the Local Presidents Conference, endorsements are discussed in regional groupings that provide the opportunity for each local president to give input on the races in his or her area. Every attempt is made to achieve a consensus view on each race (whether to make an endorsement or to remain neutral) before the recommendation is carried to the NYSUT Board of Directors for formal endorsement. Clearly, the local president plays an extremely important role in the endorsement procedure.

Q. Why don’t rank and file NYSUT members get to vote on endorsed candidates?

A.  The entire system of member political action depends upon the participation of the rank and file members of NYSUT.  They supply the votes, the workers and the money to support or oppose candidates for office. NYSUT relies on your local leadership to accurately represent you at the Local Presidents Conference on Endorsements.

Q. “I am a Republican. Why should I support NYSUT candidates when so many of the endorsed candidates are Democrats? (Or, vice versa)”

A.  NYSUT and VOTE-COPE are non-partisan and intend to remain non-partisan. In 2012, NYSUT endorsed 138 Democrats and 25 Republicans in the state legislature and 24 Democrats and 1 Republican in Congress. Endorsed candidates included the entire leadership of both political parties in the state legislature. Political party affiliation is not a consideration in endorsement; issues matter, not party.

Q. Why shouldn’t I contribute directly to the candidate of my choice, rather than VOTE/COPE?

A.  The primary objective of VOTE-COPE is to support those candidates who generally support the NYSUT legislative program. It is essential that the elected officials and candidates for office clearly recognize the link between the union’s arm and its legislative program. VOTE-COPE, as a PAC, represents collectively more than 600,000 members
wielding considerably more influence than any individual or local.