The Capital Times

December 6, 2003

UW regents drop Tyson bonds
Take note of labor struggles

By Aaron Nathans

University of Wisconsin regents have voted to drop Tyson Foods International bonds from the university's investment portfolio, recognizing the labor struggles at the Jefferson food plant.

The move to sell the Tyson bonds, which are valued at about $200,000, is the university's first such gesture since the regents voted to divest from South Africa in 1978.

Workers at the Tyson plant voted in February to go on strike after Tyson proposed a new contract that would freeze wages and cut pensions, health care benefits and starting wage rates. The workers are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 538.

After discussions in closed session Thursday, the Board of Regents' business and finance committee voted without dissent to divest from Tyson, and reported the action at the full board meeting Friday.

The committee has final say on issues of divestiture.

The decision comes after UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee both chose to stop buying Tyson products. Regents said the divestiture was largely to support the decisions of the two campuses.

Regent Mark Bradley, who is chairman of the business and finance committee, didn't have much to say about Tyson in particular, but said the decision sends a message that regents will listen to members of the public who bring them concerns about university investments.

Nevertheless, the decision could signal a new era in socially responsible investing for the university. In February, the Board of Regents will review its investment policies, including those in companies rumored to have connections with Burma.

"If we feel companies are not being socially responsible, we're going to divest," Bradley said.

UW System Assistant Trust Fund Officer Doug Hoerr said the university has used shareholder voting to promote socially responsible investing "from within" since 1997. He noted that in the 2 years he has been in his current role, the Tyson matter was the first time the regents asked for a review of a specific company.

More than half the Board of Regents turned over within the last year, from Republican appointees to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's appointees.

"It's definitely good news," said Ben Manski, co-chairman of the national Green Party, who had made a case for divesting from Tyson last month at the regents' annual trust fund forum. "The regents couldn't ignore the Tyson strikers. I'm glad they didn't. But there are many other investments the university still holds that need to be addressed as well."

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