Monday, July 03, 2017

Why I Support COPE, and Why You Should Too

For those who may not know, COPE is the political fund of the UFT and NYSUT. Contributions are strictly optional. 

I've been chapter leader for eight years now, and each and every one of those years I've received some package or other from UFT urging me to do a COPE drive. In fact, a few years back, I decided to take them up on it. So I invited a Queens rep over to a meeting, but the rep texted me after the meeting had begun asking me what time to show. I was left to largely improvise a meeting, but that was OK because, as usual, these were pretty lively times and we all had much to discuss.

I was interested in supporting leadership at that time because it was hanging tough against Cuomo's insistence we rate teachers on junk science. And when the rep showed up, he said, after we'd gone years with no contract, "Don't worry, Michael Mulgrew is very smart. You'll get your contract, because Bloomberg can't get evaluation without it." Despite that proclamation, virtually every sentient NY City teacher remembers ending up with an evaluation system devised by Reformy John King and no contract. My members still ask me to bring the rep back so they can throw stuff at him. And by the end of that meeting, only one UFT delegate and I had signed up for COPE.

I continued to pay because I felt it gave me marginal cred with leadership, which for reasons I can't fathom, criticized bloggers from time to time. But I didn't see the point in inviting anyone else until very recently, when I heard UFT Political Director Paul Egan speak of the NY constitutional convention vote, coming next November. You probably know that NY State, unlike New Jersey and Illinois, has to pay its share of pension contributions by law. You probably also know that the states I just mentioned, since they don't have to, tend not to pay their share.

This is problematic for those of us who envision a retirement in which we don't have to check prices of canned cat food before purchasing it for lunch. Of course, there are valid arguments against paying into COPE. For one, NYC high schools have absolutely no voice nor vote in NYSUT. For another, COPE has supported some questionable politicians, from Serphin Maltese, who broke two Catholic school unions, to George Pataki, who answered our support by vetoing improvements in the Taylor Law, to teacher-basher Andrew Cuomo, to the execrable Fernando Cabrera.

This notwithstanding, there are powerful forces looking to open a Constitutional Convention, and Egan is not exaggerating when he says they are after our pensions. Upstate teacher Maria May recently sent me this paper describing Reclaim NY, a group that claims to be impartial, but only meets that standard if you believe Fox News is "fair and balanced."

This group is headed by hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, who supports all sorts of right-wing causes, including Breitbart Media, Ted Cruz, and everybody's best buddy Donald Trump (or "the presidential election," as Unity leadership calls him).  Reclaim NY is the very definition of an astroturf group, being 100% financed by Mercer's Family Foundation.

Reclaim NY is very much against taxes, and is suing school districts to try to expose what it deems to be overspending. They seem to have a very reformy outlook, strongly supporting charter schools, religious schools, and our good pal Betsy DeVos. They support a national constitutional convention so it's not a big leap to assume they will support a state one as well. Imagine how much more money New York could devote to charter schools, religious schools, and tax breaks for zillionaires if it simply didn't pay the pensions it's promised NY State teachers.

This is a very real threat, and not just for senior teachers. Our pensions are already under attack by national reformies, and folks like Mercer would probably like nothing better than to do away with them utterly. Right now, the only solid entity I know that's fighting this is our union and AFL-CIO. That's why I went before my staff and made my own pitch for COPE this year, and that's why I signed up another 80-plus members.

I would not be able to sleep at night if I weren't doing my bit to fight Mercer and like-minded reformies. While some of my friends disagree, I will continue to push COPE for now. Hey, if we win in November, maybe we can reconsider. But a country controlled by Donald Trump and his thugs is a very dangerous place for working people. While I frequently disagree with union leadership, this is one area in which I don't want their hands tied.

To them, I say fight this vigorously. Too frequently I see UFT leadership fall down when no one pushes them. They can't afford to do that now. We need to not only support them in this, but also to monitor their actions and progress.
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