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BY SAM SPOKONY | Several dozen New York University students, along with union workers from New Jersey, Connecticut and other states, gathered in Washington Square on Wednesday afternoon to rally against a member of the N.Y.U. Law School board of trustees who they say has mistreated his employees. They also say the trustee hired anti-union thugs to harass them at a previous protest.
The students, who represent N.Y.U.’s Student Labor Action Movement, joined the union’s ongoing fight and called for Daniel Straus to leave the board of trustees if he continues, as they claim, to shortchange his workers and take away their sick days rather than working toward a fair contract. In addition to being a major N.Y.U. donor, Straus runs multiple chains of healthcare organizations and nursing homes in several Northeastern states.
“He puts millions of dollars into this school, but he refuses to treat his own employees with respect,” said Jeffery Jimenez, 22, who works at Straus’s CareOne nursing home in New Milford, N.J. Jimenez complained of low wages and a lack of benefits.
Tim Hodges, a CareOne spokesperson, said in an e-mailed statement that Straus is not dealing unfairly with the workers, who are all members of the 1199 Service Employees International Union, also known as United Healthcare Workers East.
“Today’s demonstration was simply another manifestation of the S.E.I.U.’s playbook, which basically calls on S.E.I.U. members involved in a contract dispute to use all available means to try to harass an employer,” Hodges said, “even if the venue and people in question, in this case N.Y.U. and its students, have nothing whatsoever to do with the contract dispute.”
The students and workers marched around Washington Square from N.Y.U.’s Bobst Library to the Law School’s main campus, where they gave letters to N.Y.U. President John Sexton and the dean of the Law School that urged them to pressure Straus to negotiate fairly with his workers. They ended the protest by chanting in front of the university’s Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice.
Adaner Usmani, a 26-year-old N.Y.U. graduate student and SLAM member, said that at a similar rally on Sept. 11, about 25 “anti-union thugs” posed as nursing home workers and muscled their way into the gathering in order to harass the protesters.
“One of them told me he was going to find me after the protest and beat me up,” Usmani said. He, along with other students and workers, believes that Straus hired the alleged thugs.
Hodges also denied that claim, calling it an “absurd accusation.”
A spokesperson for N.Y.U. Law School said the school fully supports the right of students and workers to peacefully protest, and that the school “takes a dim view of any attempt to curtail such rights.” However, the spokesperson added, “We have known Daniel Straus for more than 10 years and have found him to be an upright and honorable person.”