New York University: Stop lobbying for corporate immunity from COVID lawsuits

Andy Hamilton, President, New York University

New York University must oppose lobbying efforts for corporate immunity that would shield them from liability if they fail to provide sufficient protections for their workers or students during the COVID crisis

To: Andy Hamilton, President, New York University
From: [Your Name]

We demand that New York University stop lobbying for corporate immunity in the COVID-19 crisis, oppose corporate immunity, and not require students and workers to sign liability waivers when they return to campus.

NYU is a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an industry group that is lobbying Congress to demand that big employers, like universities, get immunity from COVID-19 related lawsuits as in-person operations resume. Corporate immunity would shield companies and schools from liability if they fail to provide sufficient protections for their workers or students.

AAU is lobbying for corporate immunity in NYU’s name— and, possibly, with NYU’s support. This must end.

The University has an obligation to protect the health and safety of students and workers as the campus reopens, including by taking basic safety precautions like providing PPE, implementing social distancing, and creating protocols for handling a possible second wave of the virus on campus. We expect NYU to follow these and other CDC guidelines out of a responsibility to the community rather than just a threat of lawsuit; however, if the University does not properly address the risks of COVID-19 in their reopening plan, they need to be held accountable. Any efforts to preempt liability with corporate immunity will destroy our trust in the University’s safety protocols.

NYU’s participation, even if passive, in AAU’s lobbying efforts for corporate immunity is unconscionable, especially given its role as a New York City institution. NYC has been devastated by the COVID crisis. We saw the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on workers of color: Black and Brown folks, including undocumented people, make up a majority of “essential workers” who were inadequately protected. The outbreak, while somewhat contained, is far from over -- and a rush to return to work or school, without proper safety precautions in place, could have deadly results. Corporate immunity would shield businesses from all consequences of an early or irresponsible reopening. A global pandemic is no time to lower incentives for worker protections.

NYU prides itself on its commitment to the public interest, and the pandemic demands action to match those ideals. This is an opportunity for the University to demonstrate that it cares about New York’s most marginalized and vulnerable, particularly during this public health crisis that has exacerbated existing inequalities. While the Administration has taken steps to address some of the harms caused by COVID, such as continuing to pay subcontracted workers and implementing a mostly remote model for the upcoming school year, the efforts should not stop there. NYU must actively oppose corporate immunity.

As students and workers, we do not want the University to reopen as soon as possible. We want to return to campus when it is safe and healthy to do so, and with the proper precautions in place. Preventing corporate immunity will ensure that schools and corporations also share that interest.

We call on NYU to:
- Stop lobbying Congress for corporate immunity;
- Announce its opposition to corporate immunity; and
- Pledge to not require students & workers to sign liability waivers to come back to campus.