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November 2016


The cure for the common allergy to politics
Cynthia Eaton


FA officers Dante Morelli and Cynthia Eaton collected VOTE-COPE contributions during Professional Development Day on October 11, 2016. (photo by Victoria Pendzick)

At an FA event a few years ago, I overhead a member declare to a colleague that she suffers from "a rather common allergy to politics." It's an expression I had heard before. The members were discussing why they think politics is "dirty" and why we academics need to "keep our distance."

Allergy is an intriguing metaphor, and this year's election cycle probably has triggered more violent reactions than in previous years. We've all seen the misery-inducing symptoms: headaches, stomach upset, dark circles under the eyes, irritability.

But we need to address this idea of politics as something that causes negative reactions. Politics simply references activities that relate to the actions or policies of various governing bodies within a locality, state or nation. These activities, of course, directly impact the working lives of public employees within those localities, states or nations.

This means that our work as employees at a public institution of higher education is unavoidably political.

This message seems to have resonated with the 18 members who contributed for the first time and the 25 who increased their VOTE-COPE donations during Professional Development Day. In total the amount of annual donations to the FA during those few hours equals $4,485 per year. That funding will go a long way in protecting those members' workplace rights—and all of the rest our rights too.

Thank you to all who donated!

They may have suffered this common allergy to politics. But then they discovered the cure: They embraced the opportunity to learn about and become engaged with the political process, to discuss the challenges facing our students at SCCC and to talk through the ways in which the FA can educate our elected officials and continue to advocate for what our students need to succeed.

None of them walked away sneezing or coughing or with itchy, watery eyes. In fact, they seemed healthier than ever.

We think you should donate too. Here's some basic information on what VOTE-COPE is, who currently gives and why we want all members to donate to the fund.

What is VOTE-COPE?

VOTE-COPE is New York State United Teachers (NYSUT)’s non-partisan political action fund. It allows us to hold elected officials accountable to higher education and union rights by enabling us to meet with and educate elected officials at the local and state level on issues that matter to our students and to us.

Why should I give to VOTE-COPE?

Education is under attack, including but not limited to tenure, academic freedom, collective bargaining, and pensions. These attacks are coming at a huge cost: for every dollar we spend on advocacy, our adversaries are spending $15. Unions make up only 11% of the U.S. labor force, an all-time low, and we can see how attacks on public education and collective bargaining rights are increasing.

Who donates to VOTE-COPE?

As of October 10, 2016, 286 people contributed, 250 of which are FA members. The largest contributing departments include biology, English, and mathematics.

Comparing this to other Suffolk County unions, only 31% of full-time FA members contribute, while the Brentwood Teachers Association and the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association each have 100% participation.

Our current contributions average $31 per member annually. Comparing this with Suffolk County K12 locals, we are in the middle when it comes to donations. Consider this:

  • 1 local collected an average of $105 per member
  • 2 locals collected between $75 - $100 per member
  • 15 locals collected between $50 - $75 per member
  • 16 locals collected between $30 - $50 per member.

Okay but when I give, where do my contributions go?

Your contribution allows us to attend more than 50 fundraisers per year on behalf of the NYSUT and the FA at which we meet with elected officials and candidates to talk about the successes of and challenges facing SCCC students.

Your contributions enable us to help ensure that you have what you need to meet our students’ needs. Nobody knows what those needs are better than the FA members who work with students every single day, in a myriad of ways. But we cannot get those messages to our elected officials without being able to have a seat at the table.

We also converse with elected officials who have the ability to provide funding to SCCC from the state and county levels as well as capital projects funding, such as for the new libraries at Grant and Eastern, the STEM building at Grant, Lindsay Life Science at Ammerman, and the new health facility at Eastern.

What if the FA and NYSUT support legislators that I do not identify with politically?

Contrary to popular belief, NYSUT and the FA do not support only Democrats. We regularly endorse and contribute to political candidates on both sides of the aisle. For example, one of our biggest advocates is Senator Kenneth LaValle, a Republican representing the New York’s 1st Senate District who has been the chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee since 1979.

Why should I give? I pay union dues.

Under state and federal law, union dues cannot be spent on political contributions, which is why we have to set up a separate political action fund through VOTE-COPE.

I don’t have a lot of money to contribute.

We ask for an initial $5 per paycheck contribution or a $1 increase if you currently contribute. The difference in pay via automatic deduction is negligible, and you barely notice the difference. View it a form of insurance against the attacks on public higher education, your retirement benefits, and collective bargaining rights.