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A union of State University of New York workers, fearing layoffs at the nation's largest university system, called Thursday for a $500 tuition increase for SUNY students.

Layoffs and the shutting down of classes and other services would hurt students far more than a tuition increase, said Linda Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the 21,000-member United University Professions. About two-thirds of the members are professors.

That represents a policy shift for the union, which traditionally has stood by students in their resistance to a tuition increase. SUNY tuition is $1,350 a year and hasn't been raised since 1983.

"The fiscal realities are such that New York needs its state university, and the state university needs money," Ms. Rosenblatt said.

The union's announcement increases pressure on Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature to approve a tuition increase. SUNY trustees have asked them for a $300 tuition increase.

As part of his plan to close the state's projected $1 billion budget deficit, Cuomo has asked SUNY administrators to trim $51 million.

Without a tuition increase, SUNY would have to lay off between 1,500 and 2,000 workers, said Herbert Gordon, SUNY vice chancellor for university relations.

Under the union proposal, tuition would go up by $250 during next spring's semester and another $250 next fall.

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