from The Daily Cardinal, March 29, 2005

Labor advisors resign to protest chancellor

By Eric Reinert

Fed up with what they called a series of insults from the UW-Madison chancellor's office, four members of the Labor Licensing Committee tendered their resignations Monday. University officials, however, are calling the dispute a disagreement over policy options.

The committee advises the chancellor's office on issues such as workers' rights demonstrated by UW-Madison's licensees. The resigning members said conflict over UW-Madison's policy on volume disclosure, the university's recently-renewed Adidas apparel license and a "hostile and insulting" letter UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley sent to the committee regarding its role as an advisory committee precipitated the resignations.

"It has become clear at this point that Chancellor Wiley is not listening to students or faculty and this committee is a total sham," said former committee member and UW-Madison sophomore Joel Feingold. "[The committee is] a front for the university to make it look good, to make it look like it cares about sweatshop issues where, as far as we can tell ... [Wiley] doesn't care."

Feingold said the committee acted on volume disclosure, which would have required UW-Madison's licensees to disclose how many goods they produce in all of their factories. He said following the expiration of the Multi-Fiber Agreement Jan. 1, which named the countries in which corporations could station factories, companies could simply close down factories in which workers were organizing and move production somewhere else.

The committee's proposal would have allowed the university to track when companies make such moves, and investigate if the companies were no longer in compliance with UW-Madison's Code of Conduct for licensees, according to Feingold.

Wiley instead sent a letter to UW-Madison's licensees saying the university expects the companies to be in accordance with the Code of Conduct or risk losing their contracts with the university.

Still, UW-Madison junior Liana Dalton, another former committee member, said the committee was not satisfied with the chancellor's new letter.

"The committee felt that [Wiley] was undermining our whole goal," she said.

Unlike the committee's policy, which also would have been sent in letter form, Wiley's letter did not contain specific demands of the companies, something UW-Madison Special Assistant to the Chancellor LaMarr Billups said is the source of much of the contention between the chancellor's office and the Labor Licensing Committee.

"We don't disagree with volume disclosure," Billups said. "We disagree with the methodology to achieve it."

Billups said the chancellor disagreed with the committee's recommendation to send a policy-specific letter to the university's licensees, but not with the committee's goals.

"Rather than send this prescriptive, detailed letter to the licensees, the chancellor basically sent a simpler letter saying 'if you're doing business with these countries that have conflicts [with the Code of Conduct], you're putting your license in jeopardy,'" he said. "I don't see how more direct or how more in support of worker's rights we could be than that."

Dalton said the chancellor's office has agreed to meet with all members of the committee and said the remaining members of the committee are also prepared to resign.

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