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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Recent agreement shifts focus to UW labor contracts

Russell Athletic, a former apparel licensee of the University of Wisconsin, made an agreement Tuesday with the union representing workers from one of its former plants in Honduras, which would allow the company to reapply for a contract.

Jerzees de Honduras, a plant of Russell Athletic, was closed in 2008 during collective bargaining agreements between the plant’s management and its employees, casting doubt upon the plant’s adherence to UW’s code of conduct guaranteeing workers of all licensees the right of association.

In February, UW announced it would not renew its contract with Russell Athletic after it expired in March due to the company’s possible breach of contract.


However, Tuesday’s agreement would bring the company back into full compliance with UW’s labor standards, opening the door for their reapplication.

This new agreement brings about the question of how the university enters into and maintains its labor contracts with other companies, and when they deem it appropriate to end a contract rather than work through the problems.

Code of conduct and contracts

UW currently has more than 500 licenses with companies all over the globe, according to special assistant to the chancellor Dawn Crim. When an agreement is made, each licensee is required to sign not only a contract allowing them to use the UW logo in exchange for paying the university royalties, but also a code of conduct by which they are legally obligated to abide.

Besides freedom of association — which guarantees licensees’ workers the right to choose to be a part of a union — other rights in the code of conduct include compliance with the country’s employment standards, including minimum wage, working hours, overtime, child labor and forced labor law standards, Crim said.

It also requires a healthy and safe working environment that protects against discrimination, abuse and harassment.

When it comes to choosing whether to cut a contract, Crim said the university takes an engaging approach.

“Our experience is that we are not helping workers if we are looking to end contracts,” Crim said. “We are under the premise of improving industry by engaging those with alleged violations to fix them.”

She added in the history of the university, there have only been three contracts that have been cut: Lands’ End, New Era and Russell Athletic.

While the university thinks engagement is the best way to cause change, Student Labor Action Coalition member and UW senior Jan Van Tol said he thinks cutting contracts is the only way to hold companies accountable.

“I think that’s false logic to say cutting contracts gets rid of leverage. On the contrary, we have a great deal of leverage, because companies like Nike and Adidas compete with each other over the right to produce our apparel…,” Van Tol said. “By cutting the contract, we sent the message that you have to meet the standards to even be considered as a licensee and that’s going to ultimately have an impact.”


One contract still somewhat contentious on campus is UW Athletics’ contract with Adidas.

In 2007, the Labor Licensing Policy Committee — the advising arm of the university that works with the labor contracts — was made aware of violations made at an Adidas plant in El Salvador.

According to Crim, a plant owner stole money from the Adidas plant and its workers, shut down the plant and made off with the money. While the plant owner was not an Adidas employee, and was instead hired through a subcontractor as all plants are, the code of conduct still holds Adidas liable for his actions.

Therefore, the LLPC sent a letter to Adidas warning them of their contract violation. Adidas sent a representative to the university and work immediately began between the Salvadorian government and Adidas to make sure the workers were compensated and reemployed.

However, two years later, no tangible progress has been made and a debt was still owed to the workers, according to Van Tol, who said the only option to regain what the workers lost — monetarily and in employment — was to cut UW’s contract with Adidas.

“This is a case where engagement was an absolute failure,” he said. “Adidas knew we weren’t serious (with the letter) and were just jerking us around.”


The labor contract that has most recently caused a stir within and between SLAC and the university is UW’s contract with Nike.

In January, Nike violated UW’s code of conduct by closing two of its plants in Honduras without paying its workers the $2.1 million in severance fees owed. LLPC sent a letter to Nike, informing them of their violations. Recently, Chancellor Biddy Martin also sent a letter to the company, giving them a Nov. 11 deadline to respond.

Receiving only a form letter response, the LLPC recommended on Nov. 16 in a 7-2 vote Martin take action against Nike by ending UW’s contract.

“After considerable additional discussion of the Nike case, we voted 7-2 to recommend that, in the absence of a plan for remediation, the university give Nike notice that we consider them to be in non-compliance with the code and therefore in breach of contract. We understand that our role is advisory and that you must take the actions you think best. But based on our knowledge of the issues and our experience with these cases, this is our considered opinion,” the letter said.

LLPC faculty member Jonathan Zeitlin and classified staff John Harvey were the two who voted against it. Although they could not be reached for comment, Crim said they agreed to send the letter to Nike but did not agree with recommending Martin terminate the contract.

“The chancellor spoke to the committee and asked the committee to let [her] letter sent to Nike play out and to let us have the engagement,” Crim said.

SLAC, however, is demanding immediate action.

“Companies think they can pack up and leave and there will be no consequences,” Van Tol said. “When you don’t pay severance, you are going to lose your contract with the university. In the case of Russell (Athletic) … the university cut their contract. That’s what we’re hoping to do with Nike.”

Russell Athletic

With Russell Athletic’s recent agreement with its union, the doors are now open for it to reenter into a contract with the university as it now complies with UW’s code of conduct.

“What we do is allow licensees to reapply at any time. We don’t close the door forever. We are all about improvement,” Crim said. “After we read all the details, we will determine what we will do should Russell (Athletic) decide to reapply.”

Van Tol said SLAC is overall extremely pleased with the agreement.

“This is an unprecedented agreement between a company and its union, and the agreement shows the good side of contract cuts,” he said. “They’re reopening and all as a result of student and university pressure. Over 100 universities eventually cut contracts with them and it was very effective in getting justice for the workers.”

The News Explainer column will run every Wednesday, answering the questions and concerns of the student body. If you have any questions regarding a story that you would like to see further explained in this column, e-mail [email protected].

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