Purveyor of poverty to run NYU Bookstore

stephen rechner(Editor’s note: New York University has never been known as being worker friendly. And no one knows that better than Steve Rechner (pictured), president of the union of Clerial, Administrative & Technical Staff and a member of the NYSUT Board of Directors, representing private colleges. Rechner holds nothing back in the current issue of UCATS Momentum, tearing into administration for oursourcing management of NYU’s bookstore. Tweet your support: @ucatspres.)

NYU is at it again: Union Busting. We thought with the retirement of John Sexton we might see a kinder, gentler NYU. The new administration has said the right things. But when they recently announced that they would be outsourcing the management of the NYU Bookstore to Follett Corporation, it became apparent that the new administration is just more of the same.

Follett claims to be able to provide text books and course materials to students at a lower cost, ostensibly through the magic of their superior management model. A quick look at their website shows that they lower costs the good old-fashioned way: union busting. Follet’s ‘Featured USA Position’ is ‘Temporary Retail Team Member.’ We all know what that means: low pay, no benefits, and contingent employment ? a.k.a, exploitation. Follett simply replaces full-time employees who have benefits and seniority with part-time temporary employees who earn just $11/hour with no benefits.

Google Follett Corporation and you will find page after page detailing the misdeeds of this Purveyor of Poverty. They’ve recently laid off 500 full-time employees while they continue to hire part-timers. They are named in discrimination lawsuits. They have been sued for OVER-CHARGING students for books and course materials. And some colleges, like Bryn Mawr, are wising up and taking back their bookstores after Follett has failed to live up to their promises. But don’t underestimate NYU’s determination to shoot themselves in the foot. They’d rather drink the Follett corporate Kool Aid and learn the hard way.

Retail workers at NYU Bookstore are currently represented by UCATS. They earn full-time pay and benefits as all workers should. Sadly, NYU looks around at other retail stores paying minimum wages with no benefits or job security and they see an opportunity to increase profits by outsourcing the management of the bookstore to the lowest corporate common denominator. In their eyes it’s a perfect solution. Behind the fig leaf of lowering costs to students, they will leave the dirty work of eliminating good union jobs to Follett.

How much money does NYU really expect to save by partnering with union-busting Follett Corp. and converting good-paying union jobs to $11/hr. temp jobs? How much of that money will actually be passed on to students and how much will just go to Follett’s bottom line? It doesn’t add up.

Something’s Fishy at NYU

A recent look at NYU’s IRS 990 Tax Forms shows that between 2012, 2013 and 2014 (most recent available) NYU’s ‘Salaries, other compensation, employee benefits’ (line 15) increased by over $275 MILLION each year! Where is all that money going? Even John Sexton’s excessive retirement package can’t explain that. NYU certainly can’t expect to save that kind of money by outsourcing the management of the Bookstore and reducing UCATS members there to penury. If NYU laid off the entire UCATS membership they wouldn’t save even a fraction of $550 MILLION. And $550 MILLION is the increase in NYU’s Salary/Compensation budget from 2012 to 2014; the entire Salaries/Compensation budget in 2014 was $2,888,201, 400. Somebody is getting that money, but it isn’t UCATS members. Something doesn’t add up here.

NYU’s decision is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Current NYU bookstore employees have driven revenues to over $30 million dollars annually. NYU’s bookstore is currently one of the most profitable in the country. Part-time temporary employees won’t have the depth of knowledge or commitment needed to achieve that.

UCATS is doing everything our contract and the law allows to protect our members working at the NYU Bookstore. When NYU informed our members of their intention to transition the management of the bookstore to Follett we immediately requested a meeting with NYU’s Assistant Vice President of Employee Relations, Barbara Cardeli-Arroyo. Our initial request was denied, but she agreed when we outlined the many issues we had with Follett as a result of our research.

It’s a shame that NYU doesn’t see that holding those good union jobs are people ? people who have families to support; people who have given years of good service to NYU and our students; people who made their careers at NYU so their children might take advantage of their Tuition Remission benefit.

Cardeli-Arroyo claimed that nothing was final and that no agreement with Follett had been signed at the time of our meeting, but given the amount of detail that NYU shared with bookstore employees prior to our meeting, that was an obvious lie. Of course, this decision is actually above Cardeli-Arroyo’s pay grade; she is only NYU’s representative doing what she is told, so her lie is really the lie of the decision makers above her. Just a week after our meeting Follett employees were in the bookstore surveying computers, connections and electrical outlets.

The Follett fig leaf is too small to cover NYU’s union-busting private parts. They should be ashamed of themselves. We had hoped for a better NYU under President Andrew Hamilton’s leadership.

When the infamous career criminal Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” If NYU is looking to save $550 MILLION in wages and benefits, they won’t find it in the NYU Bookstore or even in the entire UCATS bargaining unit because one thing we know for sure, that’s where the money isn’t!

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