Stony Brook University faculty protest lack of union contract amidst hiring freeze

Stony Brook University faculty protest lack of union contract amidst hiring freeze

United University Professions union Chapter President Kevin Moriarty, front right, joins members at a rally at Stony Brook University. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Faculty members at a local college say 20 months is too long to go without a contract.

More than 50 Stony Brook University staff, faculty members and students met in a rally March 1 to support the faculty union in contract negotiations with The State University of New York that have been prolonged for close to two years.

“This is a rally to try and show solidarity toward negotiating a fair and reasonable contract,” United University Professions union Chapter President Kevin Moriarty said. “We have been 20 months without a contract, and we don’t feel like we’re being dealt with fairly to negotiate a fair contract with us.”

United University Professions President Fred Kowal shakes hands with a union member. Photo by Kyle Barr

The group marched from Stony Brook University Hospital onto the main campus, up and down the academic mall and finished at the fountain outside the administration building. The main demands from UUP to SUNY is for paid family leave, a stepped increase in salary, better job security, keeping health care copays from increasing, and more security for adjuncts and other contingent faculty.

The UUP union hosted rallies in SUNY colleges across New York state. Moriarty said that while other faculty unions already had their contracts, UUP only had one meeting in February.

“One meeting in an entire month is not negotiating,” he said.

Ecology professor Jessica Gurevitch has worked for the university since 1985. She said she has a bone to pick when it comes to paid family leave.

“This was years ago, but I wasn’t going to get leave when I gave birth to my daughter,” Gurevitch said. “The only reason I got leave was because I had a cesarean and got medical leave. I adopted a son and didn’t get any family leave. The university needs to become proactive with family leave.”

“We know it was tough times in the state, but this time around we want the increases that reflect the work we’re doing.”

— Fred Kowal

UUP President Fred Kowal joined the march at Stony Brook. He said that part of the reason why the contract has taken so long was because of a new SUNY chancellor, Kristina Johnson, being brought in last year, and the administrative changeover has resulted in some delays.

“The last contract among the unions, there was a lot of givebacks,” Kowal said. “We know it was tough times in the state, but this time around we want the increases that reflect the work we’re doing, and they’re in line with what other unions have got already. We don’t want to bankrupt the state or the university, but it’s fair addressing long-standing concerns.”

The prolonged contract negotiations have come parallel to a host of other problems faculty have faced the past two years. Because of a $35 million shortage in the school’s budget, last year several arts and sciences departments were either consolidated or were cut, and several full-time professors lost tenure while many nontenured track teaching positions were slashed.

Writing adjunct Steven Dube has been protesting Stony Brook’s cuts to adjuncts since 2017. He has seen several of his co-workers lose their jobs because of cuts to the writing department.

Members of the United University Professions union rally for a a new contact after working 20 months without one. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Faculty are demoralized, and one of the excuses they gave last year for a bunch of the cuts was that they were going to be hiring more full-time people, so this really shows their hypocrisy, and that we’ve been misled by the administration,” Dube said. “I think we would like to hear more specific things from the administration as to what’s actually happening on campus.”

The same day as the planned rally, SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced that Stony Brook would initiate a hiring freeze to try and stem the financial woes the university is currently experiencing. Stanley said in a video posted to the SBU website that the reason for the hiring freeze is an $18 million shortfall in the budget due to contractual salary increases made before the current contract negotiations. He said New York State is no longer required to pay for salary increases, and that tuition increases do not cover the shortfall.

“This is going to be a difficult thing for us, because if you’re doing 100 percent of a job, and then they ask you to do 150 percent of the job, it’s either going to be physically impossible … or it’s going to warrant additional compensation,” Moriarty said.

“We’re concerned because we’ve gone 20 months without a contract, which means no raises, and previous contracts had no raises, so they’ve basically been getting us without an increase in cost,” Kowal said.

After the rally, SBU released the following statement: “The university fully supports the negotiation process between the executive branch and the UUP, and looks forward to agreement on a mutually satisfactory contract.”