Committee on Political Education (COPE)
Political action is a natural part of union activity. Members live in the neighborhoods, worry about the community and understand how teamwork makes life better for themselves and others. There is terrific power in pulling together, despite diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. But there's also terrific responsibility on organized labor not to unleash that force lightly or without deep thought.
The Milwaukee County Labor Council is sometimes deeply involved in political action. It emphasizes education on issues and candidates first and then on a democratic process of recommendation.
It also stays in its own lane. The national AFL-CIO endorses candidates for president or weighs pros and cons on legislation in the US Congress. However, more and more, the national AFL-CIO has turned to local labor councils to shape its vision. The Wisconsin AFL-CIO makes endorsements for organized labor in statewide contests, although it asks local labor councils to interview state legislative candidates within their jurisdiction and to forward a recommendation.
Some unions, particularly the larger ones, also have their own internal political education process to back a state or local candidate or issue. However, they participate in the Milwaukee County Labor Council's process because it is this regional coalition of unions and locals that carries the most clout. That's why the MCLC bears the principal voice in union support for local races (mayor, aldermen, county supervisors, school board, judges) and also handles the interview process for area state legislators.
All the major unions in the MCLC select representatives to be part of the Committee on Political Education, also known as COPE.
COPE meets before every major election. The members of the committee ask every candidate in a race to fill out a questionnaire and come in for an interview. After that, the members discuss in private where they stand.
The questionnaire provides some background on the candidates and their stance on issues of importance to the labor community. For example: Do they support unionizing and cardcheck? What are their views on privatizing public services? New issues or hot topics rise up to be incorporated into what the candidate is asked. The questionnaire also explores what resources, backers and door-to-door campaigning a local candidate is committed to.
But there are other concerns to weigh before the council commits resources in its member-to-member activities.
Are labor's issues central to the candidate in the campaign? Are there enough union members and support in his or her district to make a difference? How has the candidate treated labor and labor issues in the past?
Such practical considerations are considered along with the candidate's personality, commitment and philosophy.
As if all this wasn't a high enough bar for a candidate to jump over, there is an even bigger one. COPE requires a two-thirds vote within the committee for any candidate to win an endorsement. This rule reflects the importance of consensus and prevents one union from running away with the process.
The delegates to the Milwaukee County Labor Council are the final step. They must approve COPE's choices before the council springs into political action. Similar respect is paid by the state AFL-CIO's own COPE (consisting of the state AFL-CIO executive board and representatives from each of the states' eight US Congressional Districts) to recommendations in state legislative races.
For more information on the COPE process for union members, candidates or their supporters, contact email@example.com.