In the latest step in an ongoing conflict between the University of Wisconsin and Adidas, a county court ruled former Adidas workers can testify against their ex-employer earlier this month.
After months of mediation, the UW System Board of Regents filed a lawsuit against Adidas in July that asked the Dane County Circuit Court to decide whether the company must pay $1.8 million in severance pay to 2,800 former workers at PT Kizone, an Indonesian supplier factory to Adidas. That figure boils down to an average of $643 per employee for more than a year and a half of work completed for Adidas.
Lydia Zepeda, Labor Licensing Policy Committee chair of UW’s Student Labor Action Coalition, said Adidas legally owes this money to the workers because the company violated UW’s Code of Conduct on labor.
The code in question regarding UW’s license with Adidas stipulates licensees, such as Adidas, must pay its workers at least minimum wage and benefits, whether they employ them directly or contract them.
Before the court can rule whether the Summer 2010 UW-Adidas contract is valid, it first had to decide who gets to participate in the lawsuit, according to Zepeda. She said she was satisfied with the court’s ruling that allows workers to intervene as a third party in the lawsuit.
“That can only help because what it means is that the workers who are actually being represented by a law firm in the U.S. will be able to provide information about their situation,” Zepeda said. “They can actually provide better information because they know what happened there and they can represent their interests to make sure they can try to get the extra money that they’re owed.”
The judge’s decision ruled against Adidas, stating the PT Kizone workers union may intervene because its interests, goals and strategies differed from those of the university. As a result, the workers are now allowed to present their case alongside the state’s attorney general, who represents UW.
Zepeda alleged Adidas attempted to stop PT Kizone workers from collaborating with UW. In Adidas’ failed attempt to prevent workers from representing themselves, she said the company argued the workers did not have a direct benefit from this contract between the university and Adidas because the company did not directly employ them.
“All apparel manufacturers subcontract out the work as a way of getting around having to pay minimum wages,” Zepeda said. “So, we have a codes of conduct that say licensees are still responsible for making sure those workers get paid what they’re legally entitled to.”
The key point of UW’s Code of Conduct adopted in 2003, Zepeda added, is to hold companies under contract accountable for the treatment of workers producing their product everywhere in the world.
UW Vice Chancellor for University Relations Vince Sweeney had little to say about the Jan. 15 ruling allowing representation for former Adidas workers.
“Because the matter is currently in litigation, we as a university prefer not to comment on the most recent ruling or the lawsuit in general,” Sweeney said. “We look forward to the matter moving forward in a timely manner on the merits of the lawsuit.”