January 20, 2014

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Kowal talks coalition building at CFHE

uupdate 1-20-14

UUP President Fred Kowal stressed the importance of unions forging alliances with students, the community and the clergy at the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education’s biannual conference in New York City.

In a Jan. 19 address, Kowal said that building coalitions can help turn the public’s negative view of unions and public sector workers. Those links can help “change the dialogue” to illustrate the positive contributions unions make every day.

“We in the public sector face an incredibly hostile environment,” Kowal said. “We have to change that to show that we do good work. We need to show a different face.”

Close to 100 people, some from as far away as California, Washington, Minnesota and Hawaii, attended the CFHE’s three-day symposium, held Jan. 17-19.

Some of the groups represented included UUP, the California Faculty Association, the American Association of University Professors, New Faculty Majority, the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, Rutgers Council of AAUP Chapters, and Minnesota State Colleges and University System’s Inter Faculty Organization.

To make his case, Kowal pointed to the SUNY Downstate Coalition of Faith, Labor and Community Leaders, a broad coalition of clergy, community leaders from Central Brooklyn and unions that represent employees at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

The Downstate coalition came together in 2012 at UUP’s urging to fight plans by the state to possibly close and privatize the public, state-operated hospital, which employs thousands of Brooklynites and offers vital health care services to thousands of people each day.

“I think the inclusion of faith-based and community leaders are absolutely crucial,” said Kowal. “It removes the sense of what we’re arguing for is for our own self-interest and it takes unions in a direction we need to go, to address justice and morality issues.”

Also at the conference, attendees learned skills to create a higher education campaign and generate media coverage for their events. They heard from City College of San Francisco professors Alisa Messer and Tim Killkelly, who discussed a move by The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to strip the college of its official certification.

UUP will host the CFHE’s next meeting, set for May 17-19 in Albany.

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