Friday, January 18, 2008

Union Protest Roils Private Equity Conference

David Rubenstein was supposed to deliver the keynote speech Friday morning at the Wharton Private Equity Conference, an annual event that draws buyout professionals and academics to discuss the state of the industry. Instead, Mr. Rubenstein, managing director of the Carlyle Group, was “hooted off the stage,” as The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Joseph N. DiStefano described it, by protesters from the Service Employees International Union.
The union, which has emerged as one of the buyout industry’s fiercest critics in recent years, has been no stranger to street theater and other attention-getting events. But Friday’s protest, which Daniel Primack of said drew a “small army of police” to the scene, took things to another level.
George White, writing for’s DealScape blog, described between 30 and 50 people streaming into the conference room at the Park Hyatt Philadelphia Hotel, shouting and passing out flyers. A woman with a megaphone “lit into” Mr. Rubenstein about his firm’s recent acquisition of ManorCare, the largest chain of nursing homes in the United States, Mr. White wrote.
The union tried to thwart that deal by questioning the effects it would have on residents’ living conditions, but it was ultimately approved by ManorCare’s shareholders as well as regulators in all the states involved.
The Service Employees International Union, which has nearly 2 million members, has moved on several fronts to raise questions about whether the recent boom in private equity deals is good for the average worker. Last summer, they organized a small demonstration in the Hamptons, a tony enclave in New York’s Long Island, where protesters pretended to be billionaires and expressed mock opposition to raising taxes on private equity fund managers.
The union has also created Web sites critical of various private equity firms as well as specific buyout deals.
On Friday, a correspondent for described Mr. Rubenstein as being rendered momentarily “speechless” by the protesters — remarkable in itself for a man who is a regular on the speech-giving circuit.
He apparently found his voice soon enough, however, telling the woman with the megaphone to “take a remedial course in English before you go any further.”
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