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February 3, 2014

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UUP attracts labor luminaries, lawmakers


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AFT President Randi Weingarten makes a point about public higher education during a speech at UUP’s Feb. 3 advocacy dinner in Albany.

Weingarten spoke up for the embattled SUNY Downstate Medical Center and energized more than 100 UUP advocates, urging them to tell legislators to make public higher education a priority in the state’s 2014-15 budget.

At a dinner for advocates who attended the union’s 2014 Winter Delegate Assembly, Weingarten exhorted UUPers to point out the necessity of affordable, accessible public education and tell lawmakers to stand up for public higher ed—with their words and their deeds.

“We have to ask them to be the ladder of opportunity for the kids of this state, particularly for poorer children," Weingarten said during her impassioned 15-minute speech. "When you see cut upon cut that SUNY and CUNY have taken, it's no wonder that we’re angry. It’s this burning fight about the hypocrisy that saying college is so important, but not walking the walk to make it that important.”

Weingarten said that student debt should be an important issue for education unions. She also spoke up for adjuncts, labeling them “the most exploited workers in America.”

The AFT president, who taught history at a Crown Heights high school during the 1990s, called threats to close and privatize SUNY Downstate “crazy-making." She challenged New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was arrested at a July 2013 protest against the closure of Brooklyn’s Long Island College Hospital (LICH), to show the same dedication to saving jobs and health care services at SUNY Downstate.

“If the current mayor of New York City can get arrested (at a LICH protest), I would hope to see him on the line stopping the closure of Downstate,” said Weingarten.

A unified front

A few hours before, more than 100 UUPers attended an afternoon panel discussion on effective union advocacy. Panelists incluced, from left, Assemblymen Walter Mosely and Karim Camara (D-Brooklyn), and retired Assemblyman Jack McEneny (D-Albany). State Sen. Ted O’Brien (D-Irondequoit) and Assemblyman Joe Saladino (R-Massapequa) were also on the panel, along with staffers from NYSUT and PEF.

Earlier in the day, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento spoke at the DA, held Feb. 2-3 in Albany. Both stressed the importance of working together and raising a collective voice for public-sector workers, students, patients and communities.

“Raise your voices,” he said. “A strong, loud and effective UUP is needed for a strong New York.”

Cilento didn’t mince words when he said the state AFL-CIO will be there to support UUP.

“We must always work together on the issues important to your members and the labor movement,” he said. “The AFL-CIO will do everything we can to secure funding for higher education and for the services you provide.”

Cilento also noted the AFL-CIO’s new Making New York Work campaign, and the need to change the public discourse.

“Working men and women should not have to defend their wages, pensions and terms of employment,” he said. “We’re saying ‘Enough is enough.’ This is how we are going to handle public discourse from this day forward.”


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