The Daily Cardinal Friday, January 30, 2004

Speaker tells of factory, Lands' End experiences

By Jennifer Kidd

[PICTURE - Maria Deysi Hernandez]
Maria Deysi Hernandez speaks to a crowd at the Red Gym about her experiences as a garment worker.
Media Credit: Drew Huening/The Daily Cardinal

Maria Deysi Hernandez, a garment worker from El Salvador, said she used to have to wake up early to walk to her job where employees faced poor working conditions and were routinely insulted. If she arrived late, she would be docked pay-and her wages were already less than 60 cents per hour.

Students and community members gathered at the Red Gym Thursday night to listen to Hernandez's story. One company involved in her story is Lands' End, a UW-Madison apparel-manufacturing licensee. Lands' End was recently reported to be in violation of labor policies and could face termination of its contract with UW-Madison.

One labor violation of which Lands' End is accused is blacklisting union members. Hernandez said when she applied at Primo, a factory which makes Lands' End clothing, she was denied employment because of union activity.

That union activity began in 2001 in response to conditions at another factory. Speaking through a translator, she said worker mistreatment included forcing pregnant women to work standing up and asking clinics to give women drugs that might cause a miscarriage.

Days after the union asked to bargain with the factory, it shut down. The union filed complaints to keep the factory's machines in El Salvador. Two years later, those machines are in a unionized factory where Hernandez now works, called Just Garments.

"We say our factory because it cost us a lot," Hernandez said of Just Garments.

Unemployment and blacklisting, she said, was the cost. The union workers could not find new jobs at other factories. They learned the brands for which the factories make apparel were violating codes of conduct.

The union got support from the Worker's Rights Consortium, which UW-Madison and other universities use to verify policy codes are being upheld.

In an effort to amend violations, Lands' End recently informed Hernandez and other blacklisted workers that they are free to work at Primo. However, the union wants the company to place some of their orders through Just Garments so they can work there instead.

Hernandez got support from audience members, who wrote to Lands' End after her speech. UW-Madison Labor Licensing Policy Committee member Liana Dalton said students can pressure Lands' End to order from Just Garments.

Aspects of the speech were tied to labor rights campaigns throughout the world.

"We have a long way to go and it's going to require a lot of vigilance and persistence," LLPC member Virginia Waddick said.

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