The encampment at Fordham University on May 1, 2024. Sophie Hurwitz
The small Catholic university banned Students for Justice in Palestine in 2016. Amid protests and crackdowns, the move has become increasingly popular.
By Sophie Hurwitz

About an hour before first period on May 1, a few dozen students streamed into the lobby of a classroom building at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus. Instead of tapping their ID cards with the nearby security guard as required, they rushed in through the exit door and arrayed tents in a clump. It was a smaller version of the same scene that has arisen across college campuses in recent weeks: Fordham’s iteration of the Gaza solidarity encampment, built not 12 hours after the NYPD toppled similar protests at the City College of New York and Columbia University — using batons, spraying tear gas, and firing a gun.

Fordham swiftly joined its neighbors in unleashing the NYPD on its students. But in many respects, it has been in the fight for longer. In the courts and through its internal governing structures, the small, Catholic university has spent the better part of the past decade combatting pro-Palestinian organizing on its campus. The school banned its Students for Justice in Palestine club in late 2016, and though the move seems popular now, it was rare at the time. In a first-of-its-kind free speech battle, students sued their school, but years later, Fordham still suppresses the club.

Students and alumni who spoke to New York Focus describe Fordham’s environment as repressive, one that stifles activist organizing and discourages dissent. As more colleges deploy armed police on their students and ban politically motivated organizations, Fordham offers an example of a school where a chilling effect has set in for years — and is gradually being overcome.

A group claiming to represent local businesses is led by a McDonald’s vice president based in Connecticut and two individuals who own a total of over 50 McDonald’s franchises in multiple states. Illustration: New York Focus
New Yorkers for Local Businesses has spent half a million dollars trying to kill a bill to help workers recover stolen wages. Almost all its backers appear to own McDonald’s franchises.
By Julia Rock

As New York state struggles to stamp out pervasive wage theft, workers have been left with little legal recourse against their bosses. In the state legislature, a far-reaching bill stands to change that — but it has faced intense corporate opposition, led by a group called New Yorkers for Local Businesses.

The “local businesses” apparently behind it? McDonald’s franchises.

New Yorkers for Local Businesses has spent nearly half a million dollars advocating against the bill this year. Public documents reviewed by New York Focus indicate that the group is led by a McDonald’s vice president who works in a Connecticut corporate office and two individuals who own a total of over 50 McDonald’s franchises in multiple states, one of whom has twice been sued for wage theft. The group solicits donations to a political action committee of the same name, which has almost exclusively been funded by McDonald’s franchise owners.

The “New York” group is registered to the California address of a prominent California lobbying firm that has attempted to overturn pro-worker legislation there, and its registration documents were filed by a California-based partner at the firm.

New York is proud to be the presenting sponsor for Caffè Lena’s Sing in the Streets festival in Saratoga Springs this year. A few of us from the newsroom will be attending on May 19 — we hope to see you there!

The New York State Department of Labor office in Brooklyn, New York. Maxwell Parrott
In New York, unemployment recipients can be found guilty of fraud even if they thought their information was true. The state demands repayment at the highest rate in the country.
By Maxwell Parrott

One unemployment recipient couldn’t read the application instructions in her native language and didn’t realize she had to report part-time working hours. Another got too much money due to a government miscalculation. A third, who has a physical disability, certified that she was available to work remotely from a hospital bed.

All three committed fraud in the eyes of the New York state Department of Labor, which has tried to claw back unemployment benefits from each of them — and hundreds of thousands of others.

No state pursues unemployment overpayment cases as zealously as New York. The state reported that it had overpaid state-funded benefits to the tune of $425 million between 2020 and 2023 — and found nearly two-thirds of that amount to be fraudulent. That’s a higher share than any other state, and five times the national average, according to data analyzed by labor researchers at the Cornell Industrial and Labor Relations School. When their claims are found fraudulent, unemployment recipients are forced to repay their benefits, even when it could send them into financial ruin.

After months of negotiations, lawmakers in Albany reached a housing deal containing a series of measures — tax credits, tenant protections, and zoning changes — meant to address New York’s dire housing crisis. Senior reporter Sam Mellins shared the story with Radio Catskill.

Photojournalist Josh Pacheco recovers their camera from an NYPD bag after being released from arrest on May 8, 2024. Uzma Afreen
The journalists said the arrests interfered with their ability to document the police raid at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
By Meghnad Bose and Uzma Afreen

New York City Police Department officers tackled and arrested two credentialed members of the press late Tuesday night, when the journalists were covering a pro-Palestine protest outside the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in midtown Manhattan.

Photojournalists Josh Pacheco and Olga Fedorova were covering the NYPD’s clearing of the pro-Palestine encampment at FIT, which is part of the State University of New York System. As Israel seized control of Gaza’s Rafah border crossing, a critical point of entry for food and humanitarian supplies, the NYPD carried out its latest sweep of a campus-based solidarity encampment, arresting around 50 demonstrators, per current reporting. Within seconds of each other, Pacheco and Fedorova were accosted by police officials, pushed to the ground, and arrested, the journalists told New York Focus.

New York Focus is reporting on student protests and police responses at college campuses in New York.

We’re looking to connect with students who have protested and contributing writers on the ground. If you’re interested in reporting or becoming a source, please share your contact information and a reporter will reach out. Your information will not be shared outside of the newsroom, and your name will only appear publicly with your permission.

Governor Kathy Hochul discusses the Equal Rights Amendment at a Planned Parenthood rally in January 2023. Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
New York's Equal Rights Amendment would enshrine the right to abortion in the state. A judge threw it off the ballot for the fall, but an appeal is expected.
By Chris Bragg and Rachel Holliday Smith

New York’s Equal Rights Amendment, which would enshrine the right to an abortion in the state, has been ordered off the November ballot, after a judge ruled that lawmakers didn’t follow the appropriate procedure in passing it.

Two years ago, the state’s Democratic Party moved fast to respond to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which allowed states to curtail abortion rights. That speed ultimately may have doomed its efforts.

Governor Kathy Hochul called an extraordinary session of the legislature, and a week after the Supreme Court ruling, state lawmakers passed the proposed constitutional amendment on July 1, 2022.

The amendment would enshrine not only the right to an abortion, but also protections against discrimination related to gender or gender identity. It is also a key part of Democrats’ strategy to win back Congress. The party hoped to use the hot-button issues to drive turnout among pro-choice voters this year and pick up several seats lost to Republicans in 2022.

After it passed the legislature a second time last year, as required, the measure was set to go before New York voters in November — and was expected to pass and be enshrined into the state constitution.

But in the rush, Democrats got caught in a procedural misstep in the lawsuit, originally filed in Livingston County Supreme Court.


Copyright © New York Focus 2023, All rights reserved.
Staying Focused is compiled and written by Alex Arriaga
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