from The Capital Times October 18, 2005

Sweatshop panel urges UW use of union labor

By Aaron Nathans

The University of Wisconsin-Madison's official anti-sweatshop panel wants the university to require apparel companies that make UW logo clothing to use union labor.

The nine-member panel, made up of students, faculty and staff, voted without dissent Monday to send the recommendation to Chancellor John Wiley. Students, who packed the room, erupted with applause after the vote.

The proposal is designed to encourage large apparel companies like adidas, Nike and Reebok to pay their workers better wages, assign them shorter hours, and improve their working conditions. UW has traditionally been a leader in the anti-sweatshop movement, joining the Worker Rights Consortium, an aggressive factory monitoring organization, after student sit-ins in 1999 and 2000.

There was no immediate sign from the adminstration which way Wiley would come down on the proposal. Dawn Crim, interim special assistant to the chancellor, gave no hint.

"The action the committee took today will be taken under consideration," Crim said.

Wiley would be likely to consult with representatives of other institutions who are also members of the Worker Rights Consortium before deciding whether to endorse it, she said.

The proposal would require companies that sell clothes to UW-Madison to have 25 percent of that apparel made in organized-labor factories. That percentage would increase to 50 percent in the second year, and 75 percent in the third year.

Currently, just 2 percent of the available factories are union shops, committee members noted. They hoped the proposal would increase that number.

The proposal would also require the licensees to pay a higher price per item to the factories, which panel members hope would increase worker wages.

People on 55 campuses nationwide are discussing the proposal, and students on 20 campuses held demonstrations in favor of such plans on Monday, said Liana Dalton, a student member of the panel. She is also a member of Student Labor Action Coalition.

"I'm very, very pleased," Dalton said of the vote. "I think people are really starting to understand this is the path we have to take."

The details of the proposal are likely to change during talks with the administration and other colleges, but in general, it is a bold and necessary idea, said Dennis Dresang, a political science professor and a member of the committee. He emphasized that UW cannot be a follower on this initiative.

"We have to be one of the first," Dresang said.

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