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State higher education union celebrates gains in New York state budget

Members of UUP rally for more state funding for SUNY Upstate
Jessica Cain
Members of UUP rally for more state funding for SUNY Upstate

The nation’s largest higher education union is speaking out about the New York state budget, saying it’s a “down payment for a stronger SUNY.”

Fred Kowal is the president of United University Professions, or UUP. He said the state’s public teaching hospitals are in a slightly more favorable position under Governor Kathy Hochul’s administration than they were under the last administration. The union hopes to build from that.

“There is an underlying respect for labor and for unions and for the work that we’re doing,” said Kowal. “That is a welcome change. We may not get everything that we want, but we know that there is an openness to having the conversations that have to take place, so that we can reach a better place.”

In the final budget, UUP received the funding for capital debt services it requested, but not the subsidy.

Still, Kowal said he’s been assured SUNY Upstate and Downstate will receive money from the distressed hospital fund, which helps hospitals with pandemic-related expenses.

"There's well over $1 billion there that is necessary for the hospitals in New York state,” said Kowal. “Certainly, Upstate and Downstate, as they qualify as safety net hospitals, should get their fair share of that funding."

The budget agreement also includes funding for frontline healthcare workers in the form of retention bonuses. Kowal said UUP was able to lobby to get the $100,000 salary cap increased to make more workers eligible.

While Kowal said the budget is promising, he adds UUP will continue to lobby legislators and the governor to make sure investment in SUNY hospitals continues.

"Going forward, they need to take very seriously the needs of these teaching hospitals, these public teaching hospitals, so that in next year's budget, that subsidy is covered," he said.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.