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.

University of Wisconsin Chancellor Biddy Martin‘s office announced Friday it will end its apparel contract with Nike after the company’s failure to respond to a series of labor law violations.

The UW Labor Licensing Policy Committee announced the end of the partnership at its meeting Friday.

The partnership allowed Nike to manufacture and sell goods with the UW colors and logo. UW spokesperson John Lucas said UW made $49,000 per year on the agreement. He speculated Nike probably made around $490,000 from the partnership.

After Nike closed several of its factories in Honduras in January 2009 without paying severance to its workers, the LLPC recommended Martin end the apparel partnership. Committee chair Dawn Crim said Martin wanted to engage Nike and offer it time to find a solution. She offered the company 120 days to fix the problem. The 120th day was last Thursday.

Crim said Martin had exchanged written correspondence as well as phone and face-to-face conversations with Nike representatives during the 120-day period, trying to get them to compensate their workers. Because they could not come to an agreement, Martin decided to end the partnership for now.

“She says for now because we feel that in order to change the industry, to help workers, we need to engage companies,” Crim said.

Crim added the chancellor’s office does not see ending the contract as a solution to the problem. She said the true solution would be better conditions and workers working.

Lucas said the end to the partnership means Nike will no longer be allowed to produce UW goods effective immediately, and it has a small window of time to clear its inventories. He added stores that currently sell UW Nike apparel would be allowed to finish selling what they have bought.

Student Labor Action Coalition member and UW sophomore Jonah Zinn, who actively campaigned for an end to the contract, said he was very happy with Martin’s choice, and she made the right decision. He added he thinks it is significant UW is the first school in the country to end a licensing contract with Nike because of the violations.

LLPC member Lydia Zepeda said of the other universities she has contacted about the potential of cutting the contract, many have been supportive. Georgetown, the University of Montana and the University of Washington have all expressed an interest in talking with Martin on this issue. Only Purdue has said it disagrees and will continue to work with Nike.

After discussing Martin’s decision, the committee put two of the workers from Honduras on speakerphone and asked for their stories.

Gina Cano was one of 1,200 workers who had been fired. She said when the factory closed, she and other employees who were members of a union tried to negotiate with the manager of the factory and were told he would not negotiate with workers who were organized.

She said because of her history of unionizing, she has been unable to find and keep another job since being fired in 2009. If Nike were to pay her severance, she said, she would be able to get out of debt and back on her feet. However, when the workers contacted Nike they were only offered more training in apparel manufacturing.

“What good is training going to do us? It’s not going to alleviate our debt. It’s not going to put food on our table… we already know how to do the job we’ve been doing for many years. The solution is our severance,” she said. “I can’t survive off these trainings.”

Another fired employee, Lowlee Urquia had a similar story. She too was fired, refused severance and only offered further training from Nike. When the women learned of UW’s end to the contract, they offered their tearful thanks to the committee.

“You are making our words louder, so that Nike can no longer ignore us,” Cano said.