Downstate, public higher ed themes at NYSUT RA

uupdate 05-06-24

By Kate Morano, special to UUP

UUP’s fight to keep SUNY Downstate University Hospital open was a recurring them at the 2024 NYSUT Representative Assembly, where NYSUT delegates pledged their continued support in the fight to save the hospital and several high-profile speakers reiterated their commitment to protecting public higher education.

“As successful as our campaign was to save Downstate from closure, Chancellor King is not backing down on his transformation plan” said UUP President Fred Kowal at the UUP Breakfast Saturday morning. “NYSUT has been invaluable in this fight. With them, we never felt like we were alone.”

Over 1,700 NYSUT delegates attended the RA, held May 3-4 at the New York Hilton in Manhattan. They voted unanimously for a UUP-backed resolution that called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to reverse SUNY’s plan to close the state-operated teaching hospital, and to sign legislation which would help modernize and revitalize the facility.

AFT President Randi Weingarten, NYSUT President Melinda Person, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli—who received the Friend of UUP award at the 2024 Spring Delegate Assembly in April—and Brooklyn Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon all referenced the fight for Downstate hospital in their speeches

Gov. Hochul, who spoke on the first day of the event, mentioned Kowal’s name in her five-minute speech. Notably, she said nothing about SUNY Downstate.


UUP statewide Vice President for Professionals Carolyn Kube was honored as NYSUT’s Healthcare Professionals Member of the Year, a well-deserved honor for her years of union service and her work as a medical technologist at Stony Brook HSC.

“It’s special work. It’s very gratifying,” Kube said in a NYSUT-produced video about her work. “You’re giving a person a second chance at life.”

Kube is a dedicated unionist who served as Stony Brook HSC Chapter President and as a member of UUP’s statewide Executive Board before being elected as statewide VPP in 2021.

Click HERE to view the NYSUT video, which spotlights Kube’s work at Stony Brook HSC and in UUP.

UUP statewide Secretary-Treasurer Jeri O’Bryan-Losee also received a shoutout for her work with student loan forgiveness. Weingarten, who spoke at the event’s first day, praised O’Bryan-Losee’s work, which has led to over $12 million in student loan forgiveness for UUP members.

In her speech, Weingarten spotlighted the work of unions like UUP and NYSUT and emphasized the fight ahead as the 2024 election season draws closer.

“Americans don’t want culture wars, they don’t want book bans…They want students to have the freedom to learn and teachers to have the freedom to teach,” Weingarten said. “The tool of the autocrat, of the millionaire, is not just power, it’s apathy. Public education, freedom, democracy, it’s all on the line in 2024.”

NYSUT also awarded its Albert Shanker Award for Distinguished Service to state Sen. Robert Jackson, a longtime UUP ally and public higher education advocate.

“For me, advocacy is very important,” said Jackson, who once walked over 150 miles from Manhattan to Albany in support of public education funding.


At the RA, NYSUT and state leaders emphasized the importance of educators to shaping the future.

“Teachers are the most important people in New York,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who spoke on the second day of the event. “You’re the backbone of the middle class.”

DiNapoli expressed a similar sentiment, calling educators “the lifeblood of our neighborhoods from Long Island to New York City to Upstate New York.”

“Well-funded, quality public education can transform the lives of students and their families,” he said.

In her speech, Person advocated for increased funding for public higher education and called on lawmakers to level out taxation rates in New York, which has one of the highest levels of income inequity in the country.

“Democracy is built on the unwavering commitment of its citizens,” Person said. “We need to start having a fair taxation system in this state so that we can give communities the kind of public education they deserve. Union work isn’t just about jobs or dues, it’s also about community.”


Among the major priorities of UUP at the RA was a UUP-sponsored resolution to support efforts to teach students about union work. The resolution, which referenced the American Labor Studies Center in Troy, Rensselaer County, was overwhelmingly passed by delegates.

“The American Labor Studies Center would provide materials to teachers to teach about labor, the importance of unions, and union history,” said Kowal, who serves on the board of the ALSC. “It is imperative that we all continue to support the work of the ALSC and the Kate Mullaney house.”