Students Want Nike to Weigh In On Labor Dispute
p.Jabor dispute earlier this year at Nike's Kukdong factory in uebla, Mexico has revived stu- dent outcry over the treatment of workers who make UNC's licensed apparel. Several workers went on strike at the Kukdong factory in January after filin
rievances over working conditions and the right to establish their own union. Many of the workers have yet to be rehired at the factory, which manufactures 85 percent of all Nike's products. Students for Economic Justice staged several protests to bring attention to their concerns for the workers. Chancellor James Moeser met with the students in March, discussing factory conditions, UNC's relationship with independent monitoring groups and the possibility of adding stricter standards to the school's labor code of conduct. A key concern of the SEJ is the rehir- ing of the workers, including an inde- pendent union leader. The workers sup- port an independent union, opposing the government union supported by factory managenlent. "What's difficult is that a current and very real labor dispute is going on between a union in place and employees that want to start another," said Rut Tufts, UNC's director of auxiliary services and co-chair of the school's Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee."And that spills over and adds energy to a whole range ofother problems." SEJ members say that ifUNC does not force Nike and the factory management to rehire the workers and ifconditions don't improve, they want the school to terminate its athletic and apparel contract with Nike. "Our position now is that Nike has been weak; we want them to use their power," said SEJ member Alana Glaser, a junior from Wilmington."We are asking the chancellor to give Nike an ultinutum to ensure the workers are rehired to the same position in a reasonable amount of time. Then, the independent union can be recognized." Moeser has referred all student requests, including one requiring Nike to provide a representative in Kukdong to ensure fair union elections, to the Licens- ing Labor Code Advisory Committee, which since 1998 has advised the chan- cellor and University on questions of improving working conditions at factories making licensed merchandise. "Nike is working on getting people back to work and, in the context of Mex- ican labor law, making sure people have rights to decide what kind oflabor organ- ization they want:' said business professor and committee member Jack Evans. "We've not reached the conclusion that we need to take new action, but we are keenly interested in having accurate and timely information." SEJ members also are pushing for the inclusion of the labor licensing code in UNC's athletics contract with Nike. The code already applies to licensed apparel. UNC athletics officials have said they are committed to making sure the labor stan- dards are included as they decide whether to renew the contract with Nike this year. Senior Associate Director ofAthletics : 1
Larry Gallo said in early April that the contract with Nike is still under negotia- tion and that labor issues were being dis- cussed. "With Nike, the partnership has been very good, but there are some issues we want to talk with them about," Gallo said. "No other institution is as sensitive to those issues surrounding labor codes [as] The University of North Carolina." Tufts added that his committee has followed the developments in Mexico closely. At the request of the committee and the SEJ, Moeser sent a letter to Nike in late January reiterating UNC's com- mitnlent to freedom of association and fair labor practices. Soon afterward, the advisory committee forwarded another letter to Nike, citing specific standards expected of the company's operations. "We've asked Nike to take all reason- able steps possible to get the workers back to work and make sure there is no retalia- tion by either group,"Tufts said. "The workers have to be able to choose for themselves. Somewhere in the end, if everything works out, there will be a fair and free selection process of unions."
Students for Economic Justice members push their demands in front of
d Well. They want UNC to
end its relationship with Nike
the company doesn't rehire striking Mexican workers.
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