March 12, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – Members of the Brooklyn clergy fighting to keep SUNY Downstate Medical Center a full-service teaching hospital, concluded their 48-hour fast on Tuesday, March 11, calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to act on the institution’s behalf – or lose the support of Central Brooklyn voters.
“Downstate workers have been working for many years, and have been on the cutting edge,” said Gilford Monrose, pastor of Mt. Zion Church of God 7th Day and president of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council. “You deserve to stay at your jobs. If the governor can’t see that you deserve to keep your job, than we need to have him lose his job.”
Supporters of SUNY Downstate are appealing to the chief executive to scrap plans to privatize the medical center, located at 470 Clarkson Avenue, and allocate part of an $8 billion Medicaid waiver package to help revitalize the more than 150-year-old-year-old institution.
“We ain’t voting for anybody who takes away our healthcare options at Downstate and continues to cause thousands of people to be laid-off,” said New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams [D-District 45]. “Governor Cuomo, we are paying attention here in Brooklyn. And if you can’t help us now, don’t look for us in November.”
About 1,000 workers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center have already lost their jobs through layoffs and attrition.
Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions [UUP], called the fight to preserve SUNY Downstate Medical Center “The biggest and most important Civil Rights struggle going on in America today.”
“The fight that we are now engaged is not new,” Kowal said. “It goes back 20 years. I remember when there were the first hints of wanting to get rid of Downstate. We didn’t accept it then, and we will not accept it now.”
The UUP president who represents some 3,000 workers at SUNY Downstate went on to chide Cuomo for proposing tax cuts for the wealthiest New Yorkers while also putting privatization on the table.
“We say no to that,” Kowal said. “The money should be right here.”
A steady stream of the infirmed, sick and injured made their way through SUNY Downstate Medical Center’s main entrance as religious leaders completed seven circuits around the block in reference to the Biblical story of Jericho.
Those same religious leaders and their supporters say they are now ready to help shake the foundations of Cuomo’s future political aspirations.
“This community votes, and the governor has ambitions in September and November, and that’s to be governor again,” Councilman Williams continued. “And I believe he has ambitions in four years to run this country – but he’s going to have a problem if Downstate gets privatized, or if Downstate closes down.mBecause we will remember who our friends are.”
Other labor groups fighting to preserve SUNY Downstate Medical Center include Public Employees Federation [PEF], Civil Service Employees Association [CSEA], American Federation of Teachers [AFT] and United Federation of Teachers [UFT].
“Our goal is not to just save SUNY Downstate – our goal is to build SUNY Downstate,” said Steve Porter, assistant to AFT President Randi Weingarten.
Both the state and SUNY Downstate administration reportedly were very unhappy about organized labor’s support of this week’s interfaith fast.
“After all, Downstate is safe, they told us,” Kowal said. “But this struggle is the heart of who we are as a union. SUNY and the governor are frightened by what they see here.”