Jack Lew’s union-busting past
In a little reported episode, our possible next treasury secretary played a critical role trouncing an NYU union
BY JOSH EIDELSON
With President Obama poised to tap current chief of staff Jack Lew as his next treasury secretary, Republicans are already attacking Lew for supposed slights during budget talks. Some progressives may bring renewed scrutiny to his time at CitiGroup. But if history is any guide, there will be little talk about another line on Lew’s résumé: The key role he played in New York University’s campaign to rid itself of a graduate student workers’ union.
Lew, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, joined NYU as chief operating officer and executive vice president in 2004. At the time, NYU was the only private university in the United States whose graduate students had a union contract. By the time Lew left two years later, NYU graduate students had lost their collective bargaining rights. In between, picketers hoisted “Wanted” posters with his face on them.
Reached over email, Andrew Ross, NYU professor of social and cultural analysis, charged that “the administration followed every page of the union-busting playbook, as instructed by the anti-union lawyers retained for that purpose.” Ross, a co-editor of the anthology “The University Against Itself: The NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace,” wrote that despite broad faculty and community support for the union, “students on the picket line were threatened with expulsion. There was no indication that Lew, as a senior member of the team who executed this policy, disagreed with any of these practices. To all appearances, he was a willing, and loyal, executor of decisions that trampled all over the students’ democratic right to organize.”