Squeezed Out! SUNY Downstate Staffers Returning to the Streets as Layoffs Loom
August 3, 2012
By Joe Maniscalco
Workers wondering how much longer they’ll have jobs at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn plan to rally once more outside the facility on August 8 – two days before a new round of layoffs is expected to hit.
The rally, involving UUP, CSEA and PEF members, is set to take place at high noon outside the entrance to SUNY’s University Hospital of Brooklyn, 470 Clarkson Avenue. The planned action follows two previous rallies held at the hospital in July. Since then, the desperation of hospital workers fearing for their futures has reached the office of State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who has ordered a new audit of SUNY Downstate aimed at determining its financial solvency.
Members of the Brooklyn Delegation called on the controller to conduct the audit quickly, knowing that layoffs – possibly numbering in the hundreds – were coming. One-hundred-and-fifty employees at Long Island College Hospital, a SUNY Downstate affiliate, were laid off less than two weeks ago.
But workers at SUNY Downstate Medical Center – the fourth largest employer in Kings County with 8,000 employees – now fear that many of them will also start losing their jobs as well, even before the results of the comptroller’s audit are known.
“How can they even think about moving forward with layoffs before a state audit of Downstate’s financial situation is completed?” United University Professions Chapter President Rowena Blackman-Stroud told LaborPress. “The audit is necessary to determine if layoffs are even necessary, and to properly identify and address the hospital’s financial troubles.”
Officials at SUNY Downstate declined to comment on the looming layoffs except to reiterate their position that they were “working to align revenue and expenditures in order to maintain clinical services and ensure that healthcare education is preserved for the people of Brooklyn.”
Members of the Brooklyn delegation emerging from a July 16 closed door meeting with SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall, sounded doubtful that layoffs could, in fact, be averted.
“These layoffs will leave thousands of Brooklynites without jobs, decimate Brooklyn’s economy, and negatively impact health care services for thousands who rely on Downstate for health care,” Blackman-Stroud warned.
At the same time these events are unfolding, Dr. John Williams, senior vice president of a for-profit consulting firm called Verras Health Care International, is set to start work as SUNY Downstate Medical Center’s next president on August 20. According to published reports, Dr. Williams will enjoy an overall compensation package worth over $750,000 a year.
SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman McCall celebrated the incoming president, as “precisely the person we have been looking for to lead Downstate through its financial restructuring while maintaining its impeccable service to the Brooklyn community and all of New York State.”
Meanwhile, dozens of workers on temporary or part-time lines have already been laid-off, according to Blackman-Stroud. This time around, those possibly facing “non-renewal” notices next week are expected to be staffers on full-time term lines who don’t have permanence or tenure.
“We hope the audit will show that Downstate’s finances are not as bad as the administration has portrayed them to be,” Blackman-Stroud said. “If there are financial problems, we hope the audit will pinpoint where they are and come up with solutions to address them other than workforce reductions.”