So, have we seen any recent developments in the news about labor relations? Yes, in fact.
Perhaps the year’s biggest news on this topic came April 9, when the University of Wisconsin-Madison (usually referred to as Wisconsin) decided to end its licensing agreement with Nike over worker rights concerns.
The university wanted an explanation from Nike of why it closed two factories in Honduras without paying severance to workers. When Nike refused to address the issue, it violated Wisconsin’s code of conduct for companies making products with the university brand.
This is a very big development because of how Nike dominates the college sports world. Athletic departments earn lots of money for big schools like Wisconsin as long as the teams are successful. To have good teams, you must recruit good athletes. The sad but true fact is that a surprising number of athletes choose a college based on its uniform contract; in most cases, they want to wear Nike products. Actually, Kent State recently signed a football uniform contract with Nike because they were losing recruits solely due to having uniforms made by New Balance.
For Wisconsin to but worker rights over athletic success is very impressive and shows the strength of organizations like United Students Against Sweatshops.
One other piece of good news came in April from Wham-O, which is known for making popular toys like the Hula Hoop, Frisbee, Slip ‘N Slide and Super Ball. Wham-O had moved its manufacturing to five Chinese factories in January 2006, but has decided to move much of it back to the United States specifically because of labor relations.
Also, during a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, I learned about the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, which works to improve workers’ rights in the Northwest United States. NWJP formed in 2004 and currently prioritizes a campaign against wage theft. An example of wage theft is a contractor hiring a day laborer, sending him or her miles away to work for a day and abandoning him or her there to find his or her own way home. More common forms of wage theft include not paying a worker for overtime or not giving a worker his or her final paycheck after he or she leaves the job.
While the NWJP focuses mainly on the state of Oregon, wage theft is an issue across the United States and results in workers having billions of dollars stolen from them every year. The most reported cases of wage theft come from industries like agriculture, poultry processing, janitorial services, restaurant work, garment manufacturing, long term care, home health care and retail.
Interfaith Worker Justice runs a website that posts a few new wage theft news articles every day at wagetheft.org, and its main website, iwj.org, has a Workers Center Directory where workers can get help for unfair workplace treatment. Organizations are trying to collaborate nationally more than ever so that they can easier educate the nation on campaigns to improve conditions for workers. I invite you to look at IWJ’s various campaigns, which also include affirming the right to join unions and urging Wal-Mart to provide more benefits to its employers.
By: Jody Michael