Photos by Sam Spokony
Outside the gala, James McGregor, an employee of 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers East, left, handed out fliers about the accusations against N.Y.U. Law trustees Daniel Straus, Zachary Carter and Vincent Tese.
BY SAM SPOKONY | Several dozen union workers and students held a protest targeting three N.Y.U. Law School trustees that they charge are anti-union on the evening of Oct. 1, outside the university’s annual Law School gala dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Cablevision workers from Brooklyn who are unionized with the Communications Workers of America, the world’s largest telecommunications union, demonstrated against New York University Law trustees Zachary Carter and Vincent Tese, who sit on Cablevision’s board of directors.
The National Labor Relations Board filed charges in April — and began a hearing in September — against Cablevision’s allegedly illegal union-busting practices. Cablevision is accused of giving a 17 percent raise to all of the company’s roughly 15,000 employees, except the nearly 300 Brooklyn employees who unionized, and firing 22 of the union workers when they tried to utilize an “open door” policy to negotiate their contracts.
“The door is only open to ‘yes’ people,” said Steven Ashurst, one of the 22 Brooklyn Cablevision workers who were fired last January. The employees were later rehired when elected officials put massive pressure on the company to change its course.
Tim Dubnau, a C.W.A. organizer, said the union reached out to Carter and Tese, and actually met with Carter to try talking about Cablevision’s alleged federal labor violations, but said that Carter “refused to do anything.”
“[Carter and Tese] are trustees for a law school, so you would think they would be interested in upholding the law,” Dubnau said. “And at a certain point, N.Y.U. has to make a decision. Do they really want these people representing their law school, when they’re going to sit by silently while illegal practices take place?”
Cablevision released a statement claiming that the company has done no wrong, and that C.W.A. is not really acting in the interests of workers.
“We don’t know much about this alleged protest, but we do know that our employees in Brooklyn have petitioned to vote on whether to continue with C.W.A. representation, and the C.W.A. is doing everything it can to block that employee vote,” said a Cablevision spokesperson.
But Dubnau said that’s a lie.
In addition, alongside C.W.A., workers from 1199 SEIU Healthcare Workers East demonstrated against N.Y.U. Law trustee Daniel Straus, who owns CareOne and HealthBridge nursing homes in New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and whose companies have already violated federal labor laws 38 times, according to the N.L.R.B.
Andre Ucava-Sombillo, grandson of union organizer Isabellita Sombillo, held a protest sign outside the N.Y.U. Law School gala.
Among other things, workers have said — and the N.L.R.B. agreed — 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 employees, froze pensions and required many workers to pay at least $6,000 more per year for family healthcare coverage.
Jeffrey Jimenez, a worker at Woodcrest CareOne in New Milford, N.J., said that the mood among his fellow employees is particularly grim right now — even though their claims have been proven true by the N.L.R.B. — because Straus is allegedly waiting to make any positive changes until the federal government actually forces him to do so.
“Everything is the same, and all the benefits that were frozen are still frozen, so people aren’t any happier,” Jimenez said. “The company keeps telling us that the rulings are still pending, so they just go back and forth with the courts while we don’t know when this is ever going to end.”
Straus, as well as CareOne and Healthbridge representatives, declined to comment.
Both unions were joined in their protests by students from N.Y.U.’s Student Labor Action Movement, who demonstrated alongside 1119 SEIU workers against Straus numerous times last year.
Last October, this newspaper reported that CareOne and Healthbridge representatives hired anti-union “goons” to harass union workers and students during an on-campus protest against Straus.
N.Y.U. declined to comment.
Also at the Oct. 1 protest was Ben Kallos, who won the Democratic nomination for the City Council’s District 5 seat — which includes the Upper East Side, Midtown East and Roosevelt Island — in last month’s primary election.
Kallos, who is a labor attorney, has been endorsed by C.W.A.
“When Cablevision has an open-door policy, and they then tell 22 employees that the open door is basically just a door to see themselves out, that’s wrong,” Kallos said. “And this protest is about saying that N.Y.U.’s School of Law simply shouldn’t have union busters on its board of trustees.”
The N.L.R.B. could not be reached for comment due to the federal government shutdown.