Senator Al Coppola, the Democrat challenging Republican Mark Grisanti, is pledging to introduce a bill that requires that the presidents of Roswell Park’s three largest unions be appointed to the institution’s board of directors upon being elected by their membership. The labor unions include the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) locals 303 and 315, and the Public Employees Federation (PEF).
“We must reverse this vicious trend towards the privatization of public assets for personal profits. Roswell’s workforce has endured four years of browbeating political rhetoric and crude budget cuts — as Cuomo literally balanced the State’s budget on their backs,” Senator Coppola says. “His threat to cut $100 million annually from Roswell’s operating budget still looms over our heads.”
Upon his election in 2010, Governor Andrew Cuomo demanded that Roswell become “operationally independent” of the state within two years. The institution was put on a long road towards privatization when it was removed from the State’s Department of Health and spawned into a new public benefit corporation in the late 1990s.
The last four years of cuts have devastated the institution, which has seen the elimination of entire departments in a series of layoffs and budget cuts. At the same time, Cuomo forced even more concessions on the unions — introducing a new Tier 6 — with fully watered down healthcare and benefit offerings that targeted the hardest working families among us.
Senator Coppola thinks we need to get back to Tier 4.
“This is more than just backwards — it’s wrong,” Coppola says. “The medical campus is praised as being the engine of the region’s economic revival but, after taxes, we’re paying cafeteria workers $7.50 p/hour with no healthcare. If this is ‘economic development,’ then I want to know for whom.”
“You would be shocked if you knew how little a nurse starts at on an hourly basis,” Coppola explains. “Janitorial, lab techs, grounds, facilities, transport, the kitchen — don’t get me started with housekeeping — our flagship institution in our flagship industry should be paying higher wages — not doling out union busting contracts to third parties so that a few most senior executives can pad their pockets.”
Coppola’s plan would put three labor union representatives permanently on Roswell’s Board of Directors as full fledged voting members who will participate in all board committees, including corporate compliance and audit. He thinks that could integrate labor interests into the governance structure of the public benefit corporation. More importantly, it could thwart Governor Cuomo’s privatization effort.
“I’m no economist, but I do know that we should be paying families good wages that they can live on,” he says. “There’s nothing more fundamental to one’s politics than that.”
Cuomo is continuing to push for the $100 million annual operating cut to the institution — and made Roswell’s funding temporary — dependent on a vote of the legislature each and every year.
Incumbent State Senator Mark Grisanti has not yet signed onto Coppola’s legislation. In 2010, Grisanti voted for Cuomo’s $1 billion cut to Roswell over 10 years, but then later reversed the vote after widespread backlash.
Although the institution recently announced the 5-year renewal of Roswell’s federal “core grant” that it receives as one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the Untied States, operating strains that were induced by Cuomo’s budget cuts have severely weakened the institution. Some are saying that the institution’s reputation is at serious risk.
“We need to get this done before it’s too late — before the privatizers get their way,” he concludes.