COVID-19: STAND UP Cornell, Ithaca College, and Cayuga Medical Center

Martha Pollack, President of Cornell University; Shirley Collado, President of Ithaca College; Martin Stallone, President and CEO of Cayuga Medical Center

March 23, 2020

To: Martha Pollack, President of Cornell University;
    Shirley Collado, President of Ithaca College;
     Martin Stallone, President and CEO of Cayuga Medical Center

The Tompkins County community requests support from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Cayuga Medical Center (CMC) during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this time of crisis it is essential that leading institutions support vulnerable community members. As the county’s largest stakeholders, Cornell University, Ithaca College, and CMC must: (1) freeze rent payments on their Tompkins County properties; (2) lobby for a freeze on utilities and Internet payments in the State of New York; and (3) create a fund for Tompkins County to provide community members with paid leave and other emergency expenses.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I. Cornell, Cayuga Medical Center, and Other Major Landlords Must Freeze and Forgive Rent Payments During the COVID-19 Crisis

Tompkins County’s largest landlords must immediately institute a rent freeze, forgiving all rent payments during the crisis, beginning with payments due April 1.

Social distancing has led to the shutdown of many local businesses. Scores of our neighbors have lost work and income and will soon face housing insecurity. Rent is the largest expense of most households, and most people simply do not have sufficient funds to support themselves and their families during this crisis. Freezing rents is the ethical and economical course of action. Housing is a social good, and never more so than when public health requires social isolation. Furthermore, money that residents save now will be spent in the community when the crisis passes, an essential element of our local economic recovery.

II. Cornell, Ithaca College, and Cayuga Medical Center Must Pressure State Actors and Corporations to Freeze and Forgive Utilities Payments During the COVID-19 Crisis

Cornell, Ithaca College, CMC, and other community leaders should lobby the State of New York to freeze and forgive Internet and utilities payments during the crisis, beginning with payments due April 1.

New York State Electric and Gas must freeze and forgive utility payments for the duration of the crisis. So far we have seen partial measures: the state’s major energy providers have agreed to suspend utility shut offs during the crisis, and National Grid will suspend all collections activity through the end of April, waiving late fees for unpaid bills. These gestures only delay the inevitable. What we need is an unconditional suspension of fees without future repayment. Comcast’s decision to halt service shutoffs for unpaid bills and to waive late fees for the insolvent is a start. We insist, however, on a full holiday on payments by Internet users for service through the duration of the crisis. We must all heed public health protocols to stay indoors, but we must be physically and economically secure through the length of our isolation.


III. Cornell, Ithaca College, and Cayuga Medical Center Must Spearhead a Mutual Aid Fund for Tompkins County

We urge these institutions, especially Cornell, to help support and rebuild the community by creating a mutual aid fund for Tompkins County.

Tompkins County’s largest employers have a unique obligation to local workers. The local economy depends on your institutions. Without revenue from students and visitors, small businesses will be forced to lay off or cut the hours of local retail and service industry workers, increasing pressure on employees who do not receive paid sick leave. Low-wage and undocumented workers will likely fall through the cracks of federal and state relief plans. Food service and custodial workers are especially vulnerable, as are others who face elevated risk of exposure to the virus at work. Tompkins County institutions must assist those on the frontline by providing expanded paid sick leave and pay at the usual rate through any layoffs or furloughs.

The impact of this crisis will weigh heavily on Tompkins County’s most vulnerable workers, to whom you are ethically and economically obliged. Cornell, Ithaca College, CMC, and other major community stakeholders must institute a mutual aid fund consisting of charitable donations, to be administered by the County government and whichever other institutions makes sense. This fund would primarily provide emergency paid leave for all workers. It would also support food banks, pay caregivers, cover household expenses, and pay for mental and physical health care during the crisis. While CMC’s medical and support staff stand heroically at the front lines of the crisis, its shareholders must also be accountable to its workers and their community. Cornell has considerable revenues as well as a large endowment that it can leverage; it can also draw on unrestricted donations while asking donors to release restrictions on donations to the University.

***

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented threat to humanity, and our response must meet the scope of this crisis. Now is the time to re-imagine what is socially and economically possible. We urge you, for the sake of our community, to do what life and necessity require.

Sincerely,

Organizations

  • Black Lives Matter Ithaca
  • Cornell Graduate Students United Steering Committee  
  • Cornell National Lawyers Guild
  • Cornell University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
  • Ithaca College Contingent Faculty Union
  • Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America
  • Ithaca Tenants Union
  • The Sciencecenter Workers’ Union
  • Tompkins Co. Immigrant Rights Coalition
  • Tompkins County Showing Up For Racial Justice
  • Tompkins County Workers’ Center

Individuals

  • Conor Bednarski, Cornell National Lawyers Guild
  • Rachel Bezner Kerr, Professor at Cornell University
  • Caroline Byrne, Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America
  • Elijah Fox, Ithaca Tenants Union
  • Ellen David Friedman, Tompkins County Workers’ Center and Labor Notes Leader
  • Jane Glaubman, Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America
  • Mario Hernandez, Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America
  • Barham Lashley, Public Employees Federation Division 391 Council Leader
  • Risa Lieberwitz, President of the Cornell University Chapter of the AAUP
  • Joseph Margulies, Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University
  • Samantha Mason, Gimme! Coffee and Workers United Local 2833 Union Leader
  • Pete Meyers, Tompkins County Workers’ Center
  • Violet Nieves, Cornell National Lawyers Guild
  • Veronica Pillar, Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice
  • Aziz Rana, Professor of Law at Cornell University
  • Genevieve Rand, Tompkins County Workers’ Center Community Organizer
  • Russell Rickford, Associate Professor of History at Cornell University
  • Patricia Rodriguez, Ithaca College Politics Department Chair/Immigrant Rights Coalition Leader
  • Liel Sterling, Ithaca Tenants Union
  • Emily Van Dyne, Cornell National Lawyers Guild
  • Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Associate Professor of English at Cornell University

To: Martha Pollack, President of Cornell University; Shirley Collado, President of Ithaca College; Martin Stallone, President and CEO of Cayuga Medical Center
From: Stephen Penningroth

The Tompkins County community requests support from Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Cayuga Medical Center (CMC) during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this time of crisis it is essential that leading institutions support vulnerable community members.

As the county’s largest stakeholders, Cornell University, Ithaca College, and CMC must: (1) freeze rent payments on their Tompkins County properties; (2) lobby for a freeze on utilities and Internet payments in the State of New York; and (3) create a fund for Tompkins County to provide community members with paid leave and other emergency expenses.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I. Cornell, Cayuga Medical Center, and Other Major Landlords Must Freeze and Forgive Rent Payments During the COVID-19 Crisis

Tompkins County’s largest landlords must immediately institute a rent freeze, forgiving all rent payments during the crisis, beginning with payments due April 1.

Social distancing has led to the shutdown of many local businesses. Scores of our neighbors have lost work and income and will soon face housing insecurity. Rent is the largest expense of most households, and most people simply do not have sufficient funds to support themselves and their families during this crisis. Freezing rents is the ethical and economical course of action. Housing is a social good, and never more so than when public health requires social isolation. Furthermore, money that residents save now will be spent in the community when the crisis passes, an essential element of our local economic recovery.

II. Cornell, Ithaca College, and Cayuga Medical Center Must Pressure State Actors and Corporations to Freeze and Forgive Utilities Payments During the COVID-19 Crisis

Cornell, Ithaca College, CMC, and other community leaders should lobby the State of New York to freeze and forgive Internet and utilities payments during the crisis, beginning with payments due April 1.

New York State Electric and Gas must freeze and forgive utility payments for the duration of the crisis. So far we have seen partial measures: the state’s major energy providers have agreed to suspend utility shut offs during the crisis, and National Grid will suspend all collections activity through the end of April, waiving late fees for unpaid bills. These gestures only delay the inevitable. What we need is an unconditional suspension of fees without future repayment. Comcast’s decision to halt service shutoffs for unpaid bills and to waive late fees for the insolvent is a start. We insist, however, on a full holiday on payments by Internet users for service through the duration of the crisis. We must all heed public health protocols to stay indoors, but we must be physically and economically secure through the length of our isolation.

III. Cornell, Ithaca College, and Cayuga Medical Center Must Spearhead a Mutual Aid Fund for Tompkins County
We urge these institutions, especially Cornell, to help support and rebuild the community by creating a mutual aid fund for Tompkins County.

Tompkins County’s largest employers have a unique obligation to local workers. The local economy depends on your institutions. Without revenue from students and visitors, small businesses will be forced to lay off or cut the hours of local retail and service industry workers, increasing pressure on employees who do not receive paid sick leave. Low-wage and undocumented workers will likely fall through the cracks of federal and state relief plans. Food service and custodial workers are especially vulnerable, as are others who face elevated risk of exposure to the virus at work. Tompkins County institutions must assist those on the frontline by providing expanded paid sick leave and pay at the usual rate through any layoffs or furloughs.

The impact of this crisis will weigh heavily on Tompkins County’s most vulnerable workers, to whom you are ethically and economically obliged. Cornell, Ithaca College, CMC, and other major community stakeholders must institute a mutual aid fund consisting of charitable donations, to be administered by the Community Foundation of Tompkins County and the County government. This fund would primarily provide emergency paid leave for all workers. It would also support food banks, pay caregivers, cover household expenses, and pay for mental and physical health care during the crisis. While CMC’s medical and support staff stand heroically at the front lines of the crisis, its shareholders must also be accountable to its workers and their community. Cornell has considerable revenues as well as a large endowment that it can leverage; it can also draw on unrestricted donations while asking donors to release restrictions on donations to the University.

***

The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented threat to humanity, and our response must meet the scope of this crisis. Now is the time to re-imagine what is socially and economically possible. We urge you, for the sake of our community, to do what life and necessity require.

Sincerely,

Organizations

Black Lives Matter Ithaca
Cornell Graduate Students United Steering Committee
Cornell National Lawyers Guild
Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America
Ithaca Tenants Union
The Sciencecenter Workers’ Union
Tompkins Co. Immigrant Rights Coalition
Tompkins County Showing Up For Racial Justice
Tompkins County Workers’ Center

Individuals

Conor Bednarski, Cornell National Lawyers Guild
Rachel Bezner Kerr, Professor at Cornell University
Caroline Byrne, Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America
Elijah Fox, Ithaca Tenants Union
Ellen David Friedman, Tompkins County Workers’ Center and Labor Notes
Jane Glaubman, Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America
Mario Hernandez, Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America
Joseph Margulies, Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University
Samantha Mason, Gimme! Coffee and Workers United Local 2833 Leader
Pete Meyers, Tompkins County Workers’ Center
Violet Nieves, Cornell National Lawyers Guild
Veronica Pillar, Tompkins County Showing Up for Racial Justice
Aziz Rana, Professor of Law at Cornell University
Genevieve Rand, Tompkins County Workers’ Center Community Organizer
Russell Rickford, Associate Professor of History at Cornell University
Patricia Rodriguez, Ithaca College Politics Department Chair/Immigrant Rights Coalition Leader
Liel Sterling, Ithaca Tenants Union
Emily Van Dyne, Cornell National Lawyers Guild
Mukoma Wa Ngugi, Associate Professor of English at Cornell University