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BY SAM SPOKONY | Nearly two months after the company owned by Daniel Straus, a New York University Law School trustee, admitted to hiring lackeys accused of harassing and threatening student protesters, the university is still refusing to seriously investigate Straus’s conduct.
When asked for a response to a recent forum held by the N.Y.U. Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), at which the group reiterated its condemnation of Straus’s actions, the university seemed intent on avoiding any further conflict with Straus, following an apparently private meeting. Straus is accused of unfair treatment of striking workers at his Care One and Healthbridge Management nursing home companies, along with the company’s hiring of the lackeys to intimidate workers and students.
“Nothing has occurred in the last few weeks to change the university’s stated position,” said an N.Y.U. statement released on Monday. “We strongly support the right of our students to peacefully express their views. We have let Daniel Straus know how important it is that this right not be abridged, and he has stated his full agreement with this principle. But the university is not a party to the dispute between Mr. Straus’s business and the union, and we are confident that all sides will respect any decision the courts ultimately make in this matter.”
A university spokesperson declined to discuss details of what exactly took place when Straus allegedly stated his full agreement with N.Y.U.’s stance on free speech rights.
“Sure, it’s nice that they’re talking to [Straus] about this,” said Caitlin MacLaren, an N.Y.U. student and SLAM organizer. “But it would mean a lot more if he could actually make a public apology, and give a statement saying that he won’t intimidate students or workers in the future.”
Tim Hodges, a Care One spokesperson, did not respond to request for comment.
This newspaper first reported in October that Hodges originally denied that the company had hired the counterprotesters who attended a Sept. 11 protest — held jointly by SLAM and striking Care One/Healthbridge workers — but then admitted to hiring them after SLAM found evidence indirectly linking the hired hands to Straus.
SLAM continues to claim that during that Sept. 11 protest against Straus, the lackeys hired by Care One — whom Hodges called “security” — harassed student protesters with threats of violence and homophobic slurs.
In addition to owning both CareOne and Healthbridge — which have dozens of nursing homes in New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania — Straus has served on the executive committee of N.Y.U. Law School’s board of trustees since 1998, and is one of the school’s major donors. In 2009, he endowed the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law & Justice, at 22 Washington Square North, with an ongoing annual gift of $1.25 million.
Employees of CareOne and Healthbridge — all members of the 1199 Service Employees International Union, also known as United Healthcare Workers East — have been on strike since July. The workers maintain that Straus dealt unfairly by asking the union to sign a contract that eliminated six paid sick days and a week of vacation for many workers, froze pensions and required many workers to pay at least $6,000 more per year for family healthcare coverage.
Since the strikes began, Care One and Healthbridge have been found by administrative law judges to have violated federal labor law 17 times in their dealings with union workers.
SLAM held a forum Nov. 29 in N.Y.U. Law School’s Vanderbilt Hall on Washington Square that was led by Ellen Dichner, an attorney for the union workers; Gideon Oliver, president of the National Lawyers Guild (and, recently, a frequent advocate of high-profile Occupy Wall Street activists); and two union members who are currently on strike.
Along with airing their continued grievances about Straus’s conduct, students used the forum to highlight the everyday problems faced by striking workers who are struggling to support themselves and their families.
“I’m hoping there will be a light at the end of this tunnel,” said Phillip Bradeen, who worked for 20 years at a Straus-owned healthcare center in Connecticut before going on strike in July. “It’ll be worth it, as long as there’s justice in the end.”