A University of Wisconsin shared governance committee and Interim Chancellor David Ward continued to stand at odds over the university’s approach to resolving a labor rights dispute with Adidas in a meeting on Friday.
Students and members of the Student Labor Action Coalition rallied outside Bascom Hall before attending the Labor Licensing Policy Committee meeting, in which the body discussed the conflict with Ward and gave their recommendation for moving forward.
The meeting came as the latest development in UW’s conflict with Adidas over the question of the group’s responsibility for $1.8 million owed to 2,700 workers who lost jobs at an Indonesian factory who was a subcontractor with Adidas when the owner fled.
Last month, Ward announced UW will move into a “mediation” period with the apparel corporation in hopes of remedying the situation and working out the disagreement over the group’s liability.
“I would like an independent voice on the potential damages that could come from breaking the contract,” Ward said about his decision. “I feel that getting it from a mediator who is probably a retired federal judge would give enormous clout to that.”
The committee’s final resolution passed Friday — the fourth since the body called for putting Adidas on notice in December — recommended a mediation period completed by April 15 and that part of the agreement should involve Adidas paying back the full $1.8 million to the workers.
During the meeting, Ward said he was troubled by the timeline proposed by the committee and said it was clear to him that putting Adidas on notice would mean workers would never be paid back while mediation allows for at least some prospect.
“I’m a little troubled that this time is so important … if [mediation] takes a little longer, it seems to me that’s better than abruptly saying sorry, we don’t want to talk to you anymore and that’s the end of it — they’re never going to pay any workers,” Ward said.
LLPC Chair Lydia Zepeda said from the committee’s point of view, too much time has already passed in terms of paying back the workers.
“I think that we have a difference of opinion about the most effective strategy,” Zepeda said. “The committee’s concern is that it’s already been over a year.”
UW senior and committee member Jonah Zinn said when UW cut ties with Nike in 2010, the group displayed changes in behavior when it ultimately paid workers back despite its contract being cut.
“We don’t know what’s going happen, but we know that from precedent legal action produces payments … we have no evidence in the past that mediation produces anything but gestures,” Zinn said.
Associated Students of Madison Chair Allie Gardner, who attended the meeting, said in an email to The Badger Herald neither Nike or Adidas should take priority over UW’s shared governance groups on campus. She said she thinks the April 15 deadline should be adhered to as the committee is made up of labor experts appointed by shared governance groups.
Ward also said UW will be using a Department of Justice attorney as legal council in the mediation and the period is contractually required in the sponsorship agreement when disputes arise.