American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and NYSUT leaders gave a powerful demonstration of support Sunday for dozens of religious leaders and Brooklyn residents as they began 48 hours of fasting and prayers on behalf of SUNY Downstate Medical Center.
"This is a fight about reclaiming the promise America made to provide quality health care to low- and middle-income families, not just the well-to-do," Weingarten said during a rally in front of the hospital.
Several hundred hospital employees have lost their jobs. Many of the displaced workers are members of United University Professions, a NYSUT affiliate, which represents 3,000 Downstate employees and 35,000 academic and professional faculty throughout the State University of New York’s 29 state-operated campuses.
Weingarten was joined by UUP President Fred Kowal, NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta; vice presidents Maria Neira and Kathleen Donahue; and Secretary-Treasurer Lee Cutler, as well as UUP Downstate Chapter President and statewide Treasurer Rowena Blackman-Stroud. New York State Public Employees Federation President Susan Kent and Lester Crocket, the Metropolitan Region president of the Civil Service Employees Association, also joined the rally, along with dozens of lawmakers, religious leaders and community activists.
UUP has forged a strong partnership with the SUNY Downstate Coalition of Faith, Labor and Community Leaders, a grassroots organization in Brooklyn fighting to keep the hospital open, public and accessible. Many of the fasting clergy members belong to the coalition.
Kowal recently testified before a joint Legislative budget hearing that UUP has devised a plan for community-based ambulatory health clinics to help stabilize the finances of Downstate and other Brooklyn hospitals, and would also bring needed health services to residents. The state has not responded to UUP’s proposal, Kowal testified. The union intends to continue publicizing the plight of Downstate, a teaching hospital that has trained hundreds of doctors over the years – many of whom have remained committed to careers in urban health care.
UUP has launched a print ad campaign in New York City focusing on the need to protect SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. The ad calls SUNY Downstate "a beacon of hope" that provides vital safety-net services and asks readers to call a different toll-free number - 1-888-789-9085 - to tell state lawmakers to increase state aid for SUNY Downstate. The ad begins appearing Thursday, March 13, in two daily newspapers and several Brooklyn-based weekly newspapers.