The Badger Herald
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Group parties in chancellor’s office

by Joanna Pliner

Members of the University of Wisconsin Student Labor Action Coalition gathered for a party at Chancellor John Wiley's office Tuesday, bringing cake, balloons and party favors with them.

Wiley was not at his office, though, as SLAC celebrated what group member Nick Limbeck said was the recognition of an "ultimatum" delivered last week, which called for the UW administration to oppose proposed alterations to the Designated Suppliers Program by Oct. 16.

"They were very responsive, and somewhat responsive of what we were saying," Limbeck said. "So even though they haven't made an official endorsement yet, we are pretty confident … they seem to be in favor."

The United Students Against Sweatshops and the Worker Rights Consortium formulated DSP to force licensed companies to use unionized factories to manufacture university apparel rather than sweatshop labor.

SLAC members were concerned with the "three-year exit" portion of DSP, which, according to Limbeck, would allow licensed companies to cut ties with unionized factories and revert to sweatshop labor after three years.

While licking icing off his fingers in the Office of the Chancellor, Limbeck said group members met with LaMarr Billups, senior special assistant to the chancellor, last week to discuss "three-year exit." The administration and SLAC seemed to come to an understanding, Limbeck added.

SLAC member Sarah Turner said the celebration at the chancellor's office honored a new outlook on sweatshop labor on the part of the UW administration. According to Turner, the university supports UW products being made in unionized factories that pay living wage, protect women's rights and workers' right to unionize.

After asking her fellow SLAC members for the information, Turner was able to comment on how the administration's standpoint has changed since they were served the ultimatum last week.

"Before they were considering allowing companies the ability to leave the unionized factory after three years," Turner said. "Now they have reconsidered and realized that that would be a bad thing for workers."

Billups acknowledged the meeting last week, but said the administration's stance on DSP has not changed at all.

The UW administration, Billups said, never believed licensees should not be able to separate from a factory merely because it becomes unionized, and still does not.

However, if a company decides to leave a unionized factory after three years for business-oriented reasons, that is a different story, Billups said.

"If the factory is meeting every other standard … that are business aspects of the relationship, and the only reason [the licensee] would be walking away is because a union had been formed, they should not be able to walk away with that," Billups said.

The success of DSP, according to Billups, depends largely on the students' efforts. UW is committed to DSP in large part because of student pressure on the administration, he said, and students need to assert the same energy on other campuses with high apparel sales.

"Our next step is to get the Notre Dames and the Texans and the USCs of the world on board with the DSP," Billups said. "Because if we don't have those large schools it's not going to work."

When asked why SLAC thanked the administration with a pastry rather than a cordial ėthank you,' group member John Bruning said the cake celebration was more fun.

"We like any excuse to bring cake in and eat cake," Bruning said. "We don't want to be confrontational; we just want to party and hang out with the administration."

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