After first denying any connections to a group of protestors who threatened and harassed NYU students at a protest in September, CareOne/HealthBridge Management, a nursing home company owned by NYU Law School Trustee Daniel Straus, has now admitted to having hired “security” for the rally, The Villager reports.
On September 11, workers from Straus’ nursing homes along with student activists from NYU’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) held a protest outside of NYU’s Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice, aiming to bring attention to the ongoing labor dispute between CareOne/Healthbridge and SEIU 1199 NE, the union that represents the company’s striking workers.
But when the students and workers arrived, they were met by an unexpected addition to their rally: an opposing group of counter-protestors who claimed to be workers at Straus-owned nursing homes wanting to show their support for the company.
The problem was that some of these alleged workers were unable to give the name of the nursing homes at which they said they were employed. SLAM organizers immediately called fowl, saying that these were anti-union thugs hired by the company to intimidate students. But in a September 19 statement to The Villager, CareOne spokesman Tim Hodges wrote, “As to the absurd accusation that our company hired people to intimidate demonstrators at the Sept. 11 rally, nothing could be further from the truth.”
The students, however, continued their campaign against Straus, and the union searched for evidence of a connection between the counter-protestors and Straus’ company. They claimed to discover that the people posing as CareOne/HealthBridge employees had been hired by Mark Petrozzella, a former reality TV personality and friend of the CEO of National Labor Consultants, an anti-union consulting firm that CareOne hired earlier this year. On September 6, Petrozzella posted this ad on his Facebook page:
In response to these developments, Hodges told The Villager last week, “Our experience has been that strikers have been less than respectful to the neighborhoods in which they have picketed. Our concern that they would bring this behavior to NYU, coupled with uneasiness about the ongoing ruthless SEIU tactics and the actions of some within the SEIU, led us to believe that it was prudent to have security for the HealthBridge and CareOne employees exercising their right to free speech in a counter-protest.”
When approached for further comments, Lisa Crutchfield, Senior Vice President of Labor Relations at HealthBridge, provided the same statement that was given to The Villager, adding, “We, of course, fully respect the rights of students to protest on their campus, but also believe that when the union buses in protestors—strikers and others—to the campus, it is legitimate that those on all sides of the issue be allowed to express their point of view.”
She did not address why the company originally denied its ties to the counter-protestors, or that some of the counter-protestors were not workers but rather people hired by the company.
Prior to CareOne's admission about the counter-protesters, SLAM sent letters outlining what happened at the rally to Richard Revesz, Dean of the NYU School of Law; Joseph Weiler, Director of the Straus Institute; and NYU President John Sexton. The letters asked that they publicly repudiate the actions of the counter-protesters and publicly apologize to the students who were threatened. It also requested that they ask Straus to resign from the board of trustees, unless Straus issued a formal public apology and pledged to respect his workers' right to a fair contract.
Last week, on October 16, Revesz responded to SLAM via email. Although he maintained the university’s position that this is an issue between CareOne and SEIU and that NYU has no input, he did take a strong stance on the matter of NYU students’ right to protest: “One matter should certainly be uncontested: our students’ right to express their views peacefully and without fear of intimidation must be unambiguously respected.”
He explained that the university “does not have any say over who can protest on the public sidewalks near its campus or what views they choose to express. But the principle of peaceful and lawful protest is crucially important at NYU, and we caution all parties to take the steps necessary to ensure that it is upheld and to avoid any actions that might be seen to undermine it.”
Joseph Weiler, the director of the Straus institute (to which Straus donates $1.25 million annually), reiterated that students’ right to protest without fear of intimidation must be “unambiguously respected,” adding, “This has been made clear to all parties to this dispute and I trust it will be scrupulously followed.”
But Revesz’s letter raises questions about NYU’s responsibility to act in defense of its students’ right to protest. By hiring security who threatened students with homophobic slurs and physical harm—a video from the protest (above) shows one man saying to a NYU grad student Adaner Usmani, “When you leave here, I’ll find you,”—Straus and his company interfered with the students’ right to protest without fear of intimidation.
Trustees are meant to represent the university and its mission. As Revesz claims, part of that mission includes respecting students’ right to express their views peacefully. Straus is no longer living up to his responsibility as a trustee to accurately represent the university.
Revesz states that the university has no control over who protests on public sidewalks, but it does have control over whom it allows to hold positions of authority. So while NYU cannot prevent people from harassing its students in public spaces, it can prevent the man who is ultimately responsible for it from occupying a place of honor, power, and influence within the university.