A small group of students in United Student Labor Action Coalition (USLAC) began protesting John Usdan ’80 (trustee emeritus and Baldwin Medal recipient) in the Usdan University Center at 11 a.m. on Nov. 17.
The protesters objected to Midwood Investment and Development—of which John Usdan is the President and CEO—using a contractor to hire employees in a luxury rental development. Student protesters allege that the contractor, Planned Companies, underpays and overworks its employees.
After chanting their message to students waiting for brunch, the student protesters attempted to enter a closed-door meeting of the board of trustees in the Daniel Family Commons. When a public safety officer turned them away, the students marched to Wyllys Avenue they presented a list of demands via a megaphone directed at the Daniel Family Commons.
A worker’s union in New York, 32BJ, is also protesting Usdan. The 32BJ union and Employees in conjunction at The Williams, a luxury apartment complex run by Midwood, have recently demonstrated against Midwood and Usdan. Planned Companies is paying employees of The Williams minimum wage. Because of a tax break they received, Midwood would be required to pay workers 18.25 dollars per hour if they hired workers directly. Employees at The Williams demand that Midwood hire them directly instead of through a contractor.
“[Usdan] decided to contract with a company that is known for wage and hour violations, known for mistreating its workers, known for underpaying them, and it’s no surprise that this contractor is responsible for owing its employees 200,000 dollars in wages under the supervision of John Usdan,” Joy Ming King ’20 said, referring to Usdan’s ties to Planned Companies. “He has aided and abetted in this wage theft.”
As King spoke student protesters held a banner, which now hangs in the University Center, that reads “Solidarity with workers! Board of trustees condemn John Usdan’s wage theft.” Zines were distributed throughout the University Center, covered with Usdan’s face. The zine listed a set of demands, which were reiterated via a megaphone on Wyllys Avenue. The demands including stripping Usdan of his Baldwin medal and denouncing him as a trustee.
Though the protest centered on Usdan’s role as a CEO, another theme underlying the protest was access.
“We are her today because we have tried time and time again to have a conversation with the board of trustees of our own university, which we all attend, face to face,” Aviv Rau ’19 said, speaking in a megaphone. “And this is how they do things. They lock doors, they don’t let us come in to their meeting, they kick their student representatives out of their meetings, they kick faculty representatives out of their meetings. This is what it takes for us to talk to the people who are supposed to be liable to us as students. And that’s not cool.”
Students at the University have a storied history of protesting private trustee meetings. In 2012, several students tried to enter a closed-door trustee meeting in protest of the University’s need aware admissions policy. In 1992, 400 students protested the same issue outside of another closed-door trustee meeting.
The board of trustees and John Usdan did not respond to a request for comment on the student demonstration.
Connor Aberle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.