For Immediate Release
August 5, 2020
Thousands of UUP members, students and lawmakers around New York rallied Aug. 5 to demand a safe reopening of SUNY, through testing and tracing; social distancing; the mandatory wearing of masks in all close-contact settings; and telecommuting, so that students, faculty and staff will be better protected against the coronavirus.
Participants who took part in the virtual noon rally called on SUNY and the state to provide the necessary funds to ensure that these protective measures – which exceed those in individual SUNY campus reopening plans – can be put in place before campuses reopen for the fall semester. More than 4,000 people viewed the rally via Zoom, Facebook Live and AFT.
SUNY students spoke at the rally, as did UUP members from campuses across the state, community leaders and state elected officials. Speakers included state Sen. Monica Martinez; SUNY Fredonia students Elizabeth M. Hahn, Ava Knapp and Brad Brown; and the Rev. Emily McNeil, executive director of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State.
“We have made our position clear: Resources must be found to allow for a safe SUNY reopening,” said UUP President Frederick E. Kowal, who welcomed participants to the rally. “Our actions must continue and escalate. We must prioritize the health and safety of our students, our members, and our communities.
“We have watched the devastating impacts of the coronavirus on our state and nation, and UUP members have been caring for patients on the front lines of the pandemic at hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook, Syracuse and Buffalo, putting their own health and the health of their families at risk.”
UUP contends that the campus reopening plans do not go far enough. By and large, the campus plans do not provide for testing, either initially as students return to campus or on a surveillance basis during the semester. Testing, coupled with isolation and contact tracing, is crucial to identifying and containing asymptomatic spread of coronavirus on campuses.
Additionally, most campus plans only require that masks be worn when people are within six feet of each other on campus, but not whenever people are congregated indoors. Scientists now know that the coronavirus can spread through airborne contact over distances of more than six feet. To prevent aerosol transmission, even a six-foot distance between unmasked students and faculty in a classroom is not adequate protection.
Several campuses are also violating a telecommuting agreement that UUP worked out with the state in March, which allows faculty and staff to work and teach from home. The telecommuting agreement is valid through Oct. 2, but many UUP members who can successfully work from home and have tried to invoke the telecommuting agreement for the fall semester have been told they must report to work on campus. Aggressive use of telecommuting can slow the spread of the coronavirus on campuses by reducing density.
Kowal assured members that UUP will continue to press SUNY, the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and state lawmakers for both the funds and the plans to make campuses as safe as possible. The situation is urgent, he added, as hundreds of thousands of students, faculty and staff are about to arrive at SUNY campuses, and the campuses face the very real possibility of an explosion of COVID-19 cases and forced closures unless they strengthen their precautions.
“We are fighting to protect our communities,” Kowal said. “Our concerns and demands must be heard.”