Legislative and Political Action

The impetus behind a strong local legislative program lies in the work performed in your home community. The FEA Public Policy Advocacy department supports local Union efforts to strengthen both local, state and federal legislation and education policy.


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Establishing a GREAT Local Legislative Advocacy Program

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How to Establish a GREAT Local
Advocacy Program

 

THE BASIC COMPONENTS OF A SUCCESSFUL LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY PROGRAM

1. Prioritize the issues

2. Coordinate back home activities with the state strategy

 

3. Integrate your legislative advocacy program into your union’s Legislative and Electoral Work

 

4. Meet with legislators—including those the union did not support
—after their election.

5. Mobilize members to participate in as many aspects of the legislative process as possible.

 

 

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Getting legislators elected who understand public education and who will fight for our issues is certainly the first step to a successful political action program. However, to translate electoral victories into concrete legislative gains, unions must develop strong local legislative advocacy programs. A strong program is one in which the state and local union works together to:

  • Define issues and educate elected officials at all governmental levels;
  • Develop activists who are trained in the skill of issue advocacy; and,
  • Mobilize members to lobby in legislatures and in district offices.

Custom boxes -A strong legislative program does not take place in the state capitol. It takes place at our members’ workplaces, in local and statewide media and in communities all over the state. That’s because the principal goal in lobbying is to demonstrate strong, broad-based support for our position and to persuade decision-makers to agree with it. Elected officials need to be convinced that the union’s position is substantive and that it has support in the community.

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Legislative and Electoral Work: Two Sides of the Same Coin
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Ideally, you and your legislative/political action committee members would begin a relationship with legislators before or during their campaigns for office. The period of campaigning is the perfect opportunity for our members to communicate our positions on issues.

Sometimes this does not work out as planned. But regardless of whether we supported them or not, we still have an obligation to educate new legislators on our issues. Our members are their constituents and they are their elected representatives.

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A SUCCESSFUL LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY PROGRAM
The Basic Components
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There are several components to a legislative advocacy program. As with political action programs, creating an effective legislative program isn’t mysterious; it just involves putting basic elements in place. And, as with other political action programs, local legislative programs must be built over time, starting with the components you feel your local can address first and then adding to the program as more members become involved.

 

Component 1: Prioritize the issues. There are a myriad of legislative issues that come up every legislative session that affect public schools and public school employees. While just keeping track of all of these issues can be difficult, developing a comprehensive legislative program that adequately addresses them all, often proves to be impossible. Therefore, the state and local affiliates must work together to prioritize the issues we work on. This is often done by state and local government relations committees.

When prioritizing issues, we consider the proposed legislation’s effects on the following:

 

  • Overall funding for public schools
  • Workplace issues
  • Benefits such as public employee pensions
  • Collective bargaining

Component 2: Coordinate back home activities with the state strategy. We form unions because we understand that collective action is a powerful tool. That fact is just as true when it comes to legislative advocacy. Consequently, the state and locals must work together to support the larger agenda. An important step in developing a legislative program, is to meet with your state government relations staff to talk about how to state and local activities can be integrated and complement one another.

 

Component 3: Integrate your legislative advocacy program into your union’s Legislative and Electoral Work: Two Sides of the Same Coin structure and culture. Not only do your members need to be aware of your union’s legislative and political activities, they should understand that those activities are part and parcel of the union’s culture. Once your members see legislative activism as an integral part of the union’s role, it will be easier to mobilize them to help with those activities. Conversely, mobilizing members for legislative activities help to “convert” them to being a real part of a union culture of legislative activism!


So how do you let your members know what the union is doing for them on the legislative front? Here are a few ways:

  • Create a subcommittee responsible for legislative action as part of the local’s political action committee;
  • Have your political action committee chair give legislative updates on the agenda at your executive council/board meeting;
  • Develop a mechanism appropriate for your membership to provide input on the local and state legislative agendas;
  • Include legislative and political updates in all membership meetings and all of the local’s communications to members;
  • Mobilize members to communicate the union’s legislative position, in multiple ways including:
  • Phone banking;
  • One-on-one communication in the work-site;
  • Turning out for a rally;
  • E-activism;
  • Coalition work with other unions or other higher education groups; and
  • Letter-writing campaigns.

Component 4: Meet with legislators—including those the union did not support—after their election. Often new members of the state legislature are unfamiliar with educational issues. They also may not know who among their constituents the FEA represents. This is an ideal opportunity to provide information on our positions and priorities. It’s also a great time to show the legislator that the union’s membership includes the voters whose support he or she may need in the future. Try to demonstrate to the legislator in positive terms that your union’s legislative program translates to active and involved constituents as well as voter clout.

Component 5: Mobilize members to participate in as many aspects of the legislative process as possible.

One-on-one meetings with legislators are just one way to make our position known. Participate in local legislative delegation hearings, co-sponsor a workshop on education issues with other public education stakeholders in your county, send members to Tallahassee to testify at committee hearings when possible, mobilize your members to lobbying your legislator on committee and floor votes.


If this is beyond your current capacity, start by looking up one or two key places in this process where your local can participate visibly and build your capacity from there. Legislators may start viewing your local as a resource for developing legislative language or testifying as an expert on a particular bill.


Testimony and lobbying by members hit home with legislators because they show how the legislature’s work affects real people in their jobs and lives. Your members are the best spokespeople for describing how a particular legislative action harms or helps on the ground and in classrooms. Their testimony “puts a face on” legislative issues, making them your most immediate and powerful tool for bringing the issues and their real-life implications home to the legislature, the press and the public.

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