By Abby Lorch | September 4, 2023
Photo Credit: UUP website
Just ahead of Labor Day, SUNY employees represented by United University Professions (UUP) secured major gains in compensation, benefits and job security with a new four-year contract.
UUP is the largest higher education union in the country, representing roughly 40,000 members across 29 state-owned campuses. In one of the largest votes in the organization’s history, 96.4% of UUP voters approved the new agreement with the state on Aug. 24. It marked the first time members cast their votes electronically, with a final vote count of 14,900 in favor and 556 opposed.
UUP’s negotiation team, headed by the University at Albany’s Bret Benjamin, bargained with the New York State Governor’s Office to win benefits for professionals at every level. Benjamin, an associate professor of English, described the agreement as gainful and equitable.
“It's a rich contract. It brings a lot of money to our members,” Benjamin said. “But more than that, it's a principled contract and a balanced contract. It's a contract that works for all of our members in all the different constituencies.”
All members will receive raises (2% for 2022 and 3% for 2023, 2024 and 2025) and $3,000 lump-sum bonuses. The contract applies retroactively to July 2022 and lasts through July 2026.
The agreement also prioritizes UUP’s most vulnerable members: specifically, adjunct faculty, employees on the lower end of the pay scale and healthcare workers at SUNY hospitals. UUP’s lowest-paid members will receive minimum salary increases. Adjuncts will enjoy improved compensation and job security. SUNY hospitals, which have had staffing issues since the pandemic, will now provide holiday pay for their workers.
Paul Stasi, an associate professor of English at UAlbany, is president of the union’s Albany chapter. He said that equity is at the core of the organization’s philosophy.
“What makes this contract particularly impressive is that the negotiation team was able to ensure that the monetary gains were distributed equitably across the membership,” Stasi said. “Those gains were given to those who are the least well-compensated and have the least job security.”
Stasi explained that adjunct faculty are among the most vulnerable in UUP’s ranks. Currently, he said, those instructors are compensated at a rate of around $4,500 per course. By 2026, adjuncts will be paid $6,000 for each three-credit course they teach. Those who work consistently for several years will also be offered more permanent positions on SUNY campuses.
Stasi added that by supporting adjunct instructors, UUP is also supporting students and the quality of SUNY education. Some 40% of UAlbany classes are taught by adjuncts.
“It’s better for students to have instructors who are invested in the university, who have stability, who don’t also have to be running from class to their part-time job,” Stasi said. “If they’re here year after year, they can be a presence in the department; you can get a recommendation letter from them and keep in touch with them in ways that will benefit you later on.”
Full-time professionals will also be encouraged to pursue long-term careers at state universities. Their salaries will increase after seven years and then again after 12 years of service.
The contract improvements will enrich union members’ lives outside of work, too. Employees will now have access to the state’s Paid Parental Leave program, giving them 12 weeks of leave after birth, adoption or foster placement with full pay. They will also enjoy expanded healthcare coverage at no extra cost. Benjamin said the UUP contract leads the nation in these areas.
UAlbany Spokesperson Jordan Carleo-Evangelist expressed appreciation for the highly popular contract.
“The UAlbany faculty and staff represented by UUP are vital members of the university community whose hard work directly and indirectly contributes to the success of our students every single day,” Carleo-Evangelist said. “UUP members deserve fair compensation … and the University is glad that New York State and the union were able to reach a statewide agreement that was overwhelmingly approved by UUP members.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul also voiced satisfaction with the contract and the cooperation of UUP leadership.
“This contract fairly compensates the hard-working members of the United University Professions who provide critical expertise to benefit New York’s college students each day,” Hochul said in a press release.
Stasi and Benjamin stressed that there is still progress to be made on SUNY campuses. Stasi – whose UUP chapter represents around 2,000 UAlbany employees – said his team will continue to push for better resources and staffing across all departments. The chapter will also oversee the implementation of the new contract and represent workers in conflicts with management.
“An exceptionally strong public higher education system like SUNY ought to be one of the gems that New York State points to as one of its great successes,” Benjamin said. “Based on both the budget advances under Governor Hochul ... and this new contract, it seems that there is a recognition in state government about the value that SUNY has. I think if that trend continues, it will benefit all of us.”