SUNY’s United University Professions: A labor union fighting for higher ed

Union focuses on funding, keeping faculty salary on pace with cost of living and improving job security
By: | Issue: March, 2015
February 2, 2015

The United University Professions (UUP), SUNY’s labor union, has defended funding for public higher education—which has decreased nationwide by about 25 percent since the Great Recession. (Only two states, Alaska and North Dakota, have increased funding.)

“Funding impacts classroom sizes, ability for students to afford college—it means that because states aren’t investing, there is less hiring going on,” says union President Fred Kowal. “In our case, we have three public hospitals and the underfunding has affected patient services.”

With 30 chapters on 29 SUNY campuses, the union also focuses on keeping faculty salary on pace with cost of living, improving job security and maintaining fair benefits for its members. This includes factoring in the newer complications of distance learning and MOOCs, and what those means in the time faculty spend at work.

UUP represents academic and non-academic titles—everyone from residence hall directors to doctors in the system’s public hospital system. It also represents faculty that are part-time or who do not have tenure or continuing positions.

The UUP’s structure is standard as far as unions go, as leadership is elected by the members on each campus. Those reps in turn vote for statewide leaders, KowaI says.

Continuous change in the academic and economic landscapes offers plenty of opportunity for empowering union members, who can serve as a steadying force for other members. For example, Kowal recently wrote a letter to UUP members asking that they not participate in a demonstration on Feb. 25, in accordance with New York’s Public Employees Fair Employment Act and UUP’s mission.

“My fellow officers and adjuncts didn’t want to take part in anything associated with a walkout,” Kowal says. “Adjuncts, myself included, feel very strongly about students and what we do. We’re there for the students.”

And in some cases, unions are also helping the greater good.

“The greatest success in a continued tough climate has been defending the services we provide specifically in our SUNY hospitals,” says Kowal. “Attempts to privatize those hospitals have been fended off. This is mainly due to a strong coalition with community leaders, religious leaders and other union leaders.”

By keeping these hospitals public, SUNY is keeping costs down and offering services to patients who may not be accepted by private hospitals.

Kowal identifies another mark of success: 75 percent of SUNY’s medical graduates are employed within the state’s hospital system.