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Demonstrators Take Over Guggenheim, NYU Over Abu Dhabi Labor Conditions

 Demonstrators occupied the Guggenheim Museum on May Day to protest the treatment of workers building their new location in Abu Dhabi, May 1, 2015.
Demonstrators occupied the Guggenheim Museum on May Day to protest the treatment of workers building their new location in Abu Dhabi, May 1, 2015.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

UPPER EAST SIDE — Activists took over the Guggenheim Museum and New York University's library Friday to protest working conditions at both institutions' Abu Dhabi locations.

The Guggenheim Museum shuttered after a group of protesters unfurled a large red banner in the lobby demanding better treatment for workers building the museum's Frank Gehry-designed location in Abu Dhabi, according to the museum’s website and The New York Times.

Protesters held the banner — which read “Meet Workers’ Demands Now!” — at the base of the museum’s famed rotunda, while other demonstrators dropped thousands of leaflets with information about the labor issue.

The 450,000-square-foot museum in Abu Dhabi will be the largest Guggenheim in the world and house modern and contemporary art, according to the museum's website.

Protesters said workers have to pay recruitment fees and live in poor housing conditions. But according to a statement from the museum, "construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has not yet begun and a contractor has not yet been selected." 

The museum is working with its partner, authorities and stakeholders " to continue to advance progress on conditions for workers," the statement said.

Further downtown, students at New York University launched a similar demonstration against working conditions at the construction site for their school's satellite campus in Abu Dhabi.

Both the Guggenheim branch and NYU campus are being built on the same island. According to a recent New York Times investigation, nearly a third of the workers at the new NYU campus were laboring under substandard conditions, housed in tight quarters, deeply in debt due to recruitment fees paid in their home country, with their passports confiscated.

About 40 to 50 students held signs and unfurled banners in the Bobst Library, protesters said. The students said that NYU security personnel took down and tore up their banners.

NYU spokesman John Beckman said he was unaware the students' signs had been damaged, but defended the school's position on labor practices at their new campus.

"From the outset of the Abu Dhabi project, we’ve taken welfare of those who built our campus and those who work on our campus seriously," Beckman said.

"As the recent Nardello report showed, most workers who constructed our campus benefited from the unprecedented high labor standards we set. The report also showed that about a third did not. We’ve taken responsibility for that lapse with our Abu Dhabi partners. We will be compensating those who did not receive the benefits of higher standards.”