January 11, 2012

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Downstate unionists stand up to Wall Street


Raising their collective voice, nearly 100 UUPers from Downstate Medical Center stood behind metal police barriers in front of Brooklyn’s Marriott Hotel at the Brooklyn Bridge to protest millionaire Wall Street investment banker Stephen Berger’s plan to shut down inpatient operations at University Hospital and shift them to Long Island College Hospital.

The UUPers were joined by more than 250 members of the Civil Service Employees Association and the Public Employees Federation who were at the early morning protest Jan. 11 to rally against Berger and his state-appointed committee’s recommendation to close University’s hospital and Kingsboro Psychiatric Center. Thousands of Brooklynites would lose vital health services and dozens of health care workers—and UUP members—would lose their jobs if the plan becomes reality.

UUP members Jessica Xheneti and Helen Pruski, who work in the pharmacy department at Downstate University Hospital, were there to stand up for their union sisters and brothers.

“We work to provide important services for our community,” said Pruski. “We are here for the people we serve and for our jobs.”

“A lot of people need us,” said Xheneti, who held a sign that read “Don’t Berger-larize our health care.”

The hour-long protest was held at the Marriott to “welcome” Berger, who held a conference at the hotel to promote the recommendations in the committee’s 88-page study.

The protest began just after 7 a.m. when dozens of UUP, PEF and CSEA members disembarked from large buses and were directed by a cadre of New York City police to a concrete island in the road behind the barriers. They waved signs, blew whistles, and cheered as passing traffic honked their horns in solidarity.

For close to an hour, unionists—many wearing red UUP scarves and hats and yellow PEF scarves—loudly chanted slogans such as “We are the 99 percent,” “Save our SUNY” and “Health care yes, Wall Street no.”

“It’s important to realize that we provide quality health care to 2.5 million people in central Brooklyn and five million in the borough,” said Downstate Chapter President Rowena Blackman-Stroud. “This is about preserving critical health care services for the people of Brooklyn, not about a Wall Street millionaire making decisions about our health care for us.”

Assemblyman Nick Perry (D-Brooklyn), a red UUP scarf draped around his neck, came out strongly against the Berger committee’s recommendations and called the study “a poor job.”

“The big problem is money and we’re in this situation because of funding cuts from Albany and Washington,” Perry said. “We shouldn’t be closing down and depriving Brooklyn of these vital health services.”

More than a half dozen news outlets turned out to cover the protest, including NY1, CBS New York (Channel 2), WNYC radio, and WEMP-FM (101.9-FM).

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