Union Goes Leafleting To Expose NYU's Bogus Budget Crisis

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New York University management was apoplectic on Aug. 29 when members of the Union of Clerical, Administrative & Technical Staff (UCATS) leadership team showed up at NYU's student center to distribute informational leaflets during students' moving-in day. The purpose of the leaflets was to inform students and parents about staff layoffs even as top university officials rake in fat raises.

Leafleting started at 11 a.m.; within 15 minutes, a security officer came out and told UCATS leafleters they had to leave because they were violating the university's "no solicitation" policy. Union president Stephen Rechner corrected the officer, pointing out that they were exercising free speech rights protected under the U.S. Constitution. He then pointed out that the university was not trying to enforce its policy against representatives from Citibank, Bank of America and the Container Store, who also were distributing fliers.

Flummoxed, the security officer went back inside and returned minutes later to say that the real reason the leafleters had to leave was because they weren't 10 feet from the center's entrance. Rechner pointed out that the leafleters were 10 feet from the entrance and offered to get a tape measure. The security officer left again.

Next, an event coordinator appeared and conceded that NYU could not force UCATS members who were distributing the leaflets to leave, but added that the university was trying to "make the parents and students feel welcome, and it would be so much nicer if you moved across the street."

When the union members refused, the manager sent out a contingent of bewildered student volunteers to hand out free calendars and maps. This made it easier to distribute the leaflets because they were now part of the "free stuff."

At issue is the fact that over the past 12 months, NYU has eliminated the jobs of more than 150 workers and an equal number of frontline managers, citing a "budget crisis," while at the same time giving NYU president John Sexton and other top officials pay packages that would make Wall Street bankers proud.

Specifically, Sexton's 2009 compensation topped out at over $1.36 million—an increase of more than 8 percent over the previous year. NYU executive vice president Michael Alfano and provost David McLaughlin each snagged 6 percent raises, bringing their total compensation to more than $583,000 each. While union members received 3.25 percent contractual raises in 2009 (roughly $25 per week), frontline managers and faculty were given no raises at all, due to the "budget crisis." This year, UCATS members received a 3 percent increase and will negotiate a new contract in October 2011. Frontline managers and faculty received 1.5 percent raises.

The UCATS leadership team distributed more than 1,500 leaflets. In addition to revealing that an examination of NYU's financial documents shows the university's net worth has grown more than 15 percent since 2005 (when UCATS signed its current contract), the union also noted that eliminating 300 jobs means that many fewer people are serving students in dorms, offices and libraries. The leaflet asked parents and students to call Sexton and tell him to stop cutting student services. [Stephen Rechner]

August 30, 2010