Another PE Conference, Another Protest

This just in from Bernard Vaughan, Buyouts’ man at the Private Equity Analyst Outlook Conference in New York:

The protest started early and often here at the Grand Hyatt above Grand Central Station. While suits discussed EBITDA in cloistered conference rooms, on the sidewalk outside the hotel, members of the Service Employers International Union and the Working Families party, a sympathetic New York third party, donned yellow ponchos and wore signs that read: “Private Equity Forecast: Showers Expected.” (Hint: This is the Private Equity Analyst Outlook Conference.) They also chanted “Workers united will never be divided” and “No justice, no peace.”

The protestors, some 50 strong, are continuing to ratchet up their pressure on buyout firms, a campaign begun last year by the SEIU, the nation’s largest labor group. The union, which represents nurses, janitors and hotel workers, has accused LBO pros of raking in the money for themselves on the backs of slashed payroll and depressed wages and outsourced jobs. The SEIU’s efforts have also helped propel the debate in Congress over the tax treatment of carried interest.

The comments of one of the protestors, Greg Huebner of Brooklyn, illustrate the union’s rifle-shot populist argument: “We’re just trying to send a message to private equity companies that people don’t need to be bought out. These people are making billions on buying out small corporations, health-care corporations. They’re making billions and paying less taxes than the average American worker.”

The SEIU two weeks ago staged a protest at another private equity conference, at the Wharton School in Philadelphia, bringing the event to a screeching halt just as Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein, a frequent target of labor scorn, took the stage to give a speech.

A union representative outside the Hyatt on Tuesday said the SEIU’s campaign has brought “labor to the front pages” and predicted the union is only just now getting going. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” the rep said.