February 4, 2020
Members urge lawmakers to fund SUNY, save public higher ed
uupdate 2-4-20

UUP has a strong plan for bringing revenue into SUNY, and dozens of UUP members made a heartfelt case for that plan Feb. 4 as they joined their higher education colleagues from around the state for NYSUT’s annual advocacy day for New York’s public colleges and universities.

NYSUT unionists from the SUNY community colleges; and from the Professional Staff Congress in New York City, which represents the City University of New York faculty and staff; also came to Albany. As they met with lawmakers, their leaders testified about the desperate need for more money for SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges, in a joint hearing of the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

A mission for members

UUP President Fred Kowal, who spoke to the faculty, staff and students as they prepared to meet with lawmakers, reminded them of the higher purpose of their efforts.

“It’s vitally important that we do this work, because what it comes down to is, what kind of state do we want for our children and grandchildren?” Kowal asked. “I think what you need to pose to them is a way out, because this is not sustainable.”

UUP has proposed that way out of the budget debacle, with a legislative plan that embraces several bills that would generate revenue for SUNY. And the union asks the governor, SUNY and the Legislature to work together to restore the state subsidy to the three SUNY hospitals. That $87 million subsidy was cut two years ago, and the hospitals are in desperate financial straits.

Not only does SUNY face another year of flat funding, but, incredibly, SUNY’s own administration now proposes that the teetering campuses assume even more financial burden by forcing them contribute $1 for every $2 in state capital expenditures. No one has explained how the campuses, which already can barely cover the difference between tuition costs and the cap on TAP aid for their students, would come up with this money.

Above, Michael Walker, a System Administration Chapoter member, discusses the UUP legislative agenda with Buffalo-area Assemblymember Karen McMahon (D-Williamsville).

New members add their voices

Listening to Kowal’s remarks were two new young UUP members and activists, both who were participating in their first advocacy efforts in Albany: Alex DeSha, a professional at the University at Buffalo, and Alan Witt, an academic and delegate from Geneseo. Both have been active in the union for two years.

“I got appointed as [UUP chapter] political coordinator, and I felt I needed more seasoning, more experience, so I felt I should be here,” Witt said.

DeSha is a Kentucky native who has seen coal companies largely break the labor union movement for miners in his home state. Yet he remains a solidly committed unionist. He believes labor can be strengthened, despite the attacks he witnessed against coal miners.

“I think that organized labor is the only valid vehicle for change in our society,” DeSha said. “I have this vision of what New York can be, and we’ve got to find it.”

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