June 24, 2024
Members work together to solve problems, grow UUP
uupdate 06-24-24

UUP’s annual Leadership Conference focused on ways to build up UUP and use that unified strength to energize chapters and confront SUNY Chancellor John King Jr.’s plans to downsize SUNY by cutting majors, faculty and staff at campuses across the state.

The forum, held June 20-21 in Syracuse, drew more than 100 members who worked in small groups and large settings to brainstorm campus-based and state-based campaigns to oppose the chancellor and increase on-campus organizing efforts.

“The chancellor and the SUNY Board of Trustees are committed to a smaller SUNY, a much different SUNY,” said UUP President Fred Kowal, who led a June 20 group strategy session titled “How We Fight Back Against SUNY’s Downsizing.” “But we’re a union and we fight for our members despite the odds.

“Our intention is to build a campaign that is intended to literally shift the political discussion going on right now in Albany,” he continued. “It will be a long campaign at high odds, but we’re really good at what we do. We’ve been doing it for 50 years.”

Over the last eight months, King has ordered program and staff cuts at three campuses with multimillion-dollar deficits: SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Fredonia and SUNY Buffalo State University. UUP has attacked the cuts and accused King and the Trustees of working to weaken the SUNY system—and eventually shutter financially depleted campuses.

In May, King and the Trustees refused to use $277 million in direct SUNY state funding to wipe out deficits at 19 campuses, including Potsdam, Fredonia and Buffalo State. Instead, the Trustees rubber-stamped the chancellor’s funding plan, which favors SUNY’s financially stable university centers.

And earlier this year, King attempted to close SUNY Downstate University Hospital in Brooklyn. A relentless four-month campaign, spearheaded by UUP and backed by Brooklyn community groups and faith leaders, killed the plan.

A nine-person community advisory board, included in the 2024-2025 state budget, will provide important input about Downstate’s future; UUP has a seat on that board.

Working together

Members attended five seminars at the conference, focused on ways chapters can bring in new members, build communications skills, grow organizing committees and rep systems, and take on issues that affect their members.

In a session titled “Building Chapter-Based Campaigns,” UUP statewide Vice President for Professionals Carolyn Kube and Stony Brook Chapter President Andrew Solar-Greco outlined their chapters’ fight with administration over campus parking rates. Kube was Stony Brook HSC president before becoming VPP in 2021.

Solar-Greco said members at both chapters came together to fight a proposed parking increase. They wrote letters, held informational pickets and rallies and created a coalition—Stony Brook United—with other unions to fight the proposal. Both sides are still negotiating and management has ceded some of its original demands.

“It brought us all together, the students, the unions, all of us,” Solar-Greco said.

Kube and Statewide Vice President for Academics Alissa Karl closed the conference with a brainstorming session on ways that chapters and UUP statewide can work to address SUNY mismanagement and the chancellor’s plans to downsize the SUNY system.

“This is the groundwork for a long-term plan,” Karl said.

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