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SLAC rallies from Library Mall to the Chancellor\’s office, calling for the university to drop its contract with Nike after it refused to resolve its debt to its former employees.[/media-credit]

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SLAC Attack: Seismic Rally to Drop Nike

The Student Labor Action Coalition rallied on Library Mall Thursday demanding the University of Wisconsin-Madison cut its contract with Nike. They hold Nike has a long history of abusing its workers around the world, the most recent example being the refusal to pay 1,800 Honduran workers $2.1 million in severance and back-pay after Nike’s subcontractor closed two factories.

The rally was held one day after Chancellor Martin’s deadline for Nike to respond to her concerns, and one week before several of the wronged workers come to Madison.

Students rallied and chanted from Library Mall to Chancellor Biddy Martin‘s office doors Thursday to ask her to end the University of Wisconsin’s apparel contract with Nike.

UW’s contract with Nike allows the company to profit from UW and Badger apparel, as long as they adhere to the labor code of law.

After they shut down two factories in Honduras in January 2009 without paying their workers severance and back wages, Martin sent a letter to Nike giving the company 120 days to address the issue, a deadline which passed Wednesday without any change.

Nike’s refusal to pay workers violates Honduran law and the contract with UW, said sophomore and member of Student Labor Action Coalition Jonah Zinn. After 121 days with no change from Nike, SLAC wants the university to end its contract with Nike.

UW freshman Beth Huang told the crowd at the rally the company owes around $2.2 million to their ex-employees.

“We are at this rally to support workers’ rights,” she said. “We cannot accept our university’s compliance with a company that disregards workers’ rights.”

If Martin ended the contract with Nike, UW would be the first university in the nation to do so, Zinn said.

UW freshman and SLAC member Max Love said cutting the contract would make a statement to other universities in the country.

“Once you get a trickle, you get a trickle effect and groups around the country start realizing they should be doing this,” he said.

Although he said he thought students felt motivated by the rally, Love said UW students rarely organize to fight issues like workers’ rights, despite UW’s history of protesting on campus.

But a coalition between the Teacher’s Assistant Association and the International Socialist Organization helped attract more student support to rally for workers’ rights, he said.

“This is what needs to be done for changes to actually happen,” he said.

TAA Co-President Peter Rickman said the struggle over UW’s contract with Nike is part of a larger fight to advocate for workers’ rights around the world.

He said the rally was about creating a movement of students and workers fighting together.

“Direct actions demonstrate there are people who want to take action and will take action when concerns like this confront students,” he said.

Last year, SLAC engaged in a similar fight against Russell Athletics, who also closed two factories in Honduras in 2008 and failed to pay workers.

Across the U.S., Canada and Great Britain, 100 universities ended their contracts with the company, Zinn said. In the end, Russell Athletics lost about $80 million.

Zinn said SLAC helped cut UW’s contract.

“We were the ones who got the contract cut last year,” he said. “We are going to be the ones, along with all of the students on campus, to get Nike cut this year.”

In an e-mail to The Badger Herald, Martin said she will release a statement regarding UW’s contract with Nike today.