Correction appended: This story originally said the Worker Rights Consortium had made specific allegations against New Era. It has not. It is only investigating allegations made by workers. The subheadline with the story also said New Era’s Alabama factory had been “cited” by the WRC. It has not been formally cited.

A New Era Cap Company facility that distributes hats with University trademarks is under investigation by a national labor rights group for allegedly racially discriminating against workers in pay, hiring and promotion decisions.

The Worker Rights Consortium, a Washington, D.C.-based labor monitoring group, said in a statement last week that it would proceed with “a full factory assessment” of the distribution facility in Mobile, Ala. after black employees reported discriminatory wage and hiring practices.

New Era spokeswoman Dana Marciniak said the allegations made by the employees were “entirely false” and that New Era would only allow an investigation of the Mobile facility by a third-party auditor agreed upon by the WRC and New Era.

Scott Nova, executive director of the WRC, wouldn’t comment on specific details regarding the WRC’s discrimination investigation, but he said his organization wouldn’t agree to a third-party auditor to conduct the Mobile facility assessment.

“We don’t hire contractors to do our research,” Nova said.

The Mobile facility is New Era’s main domestic and international distribution facility, Marciniak said. According to the WRC, the facility currently distributes hats for more than 60 American universities.

Larry Root, chair of the University’s Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights, said the committee would discuss the alleged labor violations by New Era when it meets today.

LSA junior Blase Kearney, a member of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, praised the WRC and United Students Against Sweatshops – a national student labor rights group – for announcing plans to conduct a full investigation into the alleged violations in Mobile, but he was critical of the University of Michigan’s involvement.

“However, both of these investigations are useless here at the University if the (Advisory Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights) doesn’t take action on this issue,” Kearney said.

Kristen Ablauf, the University’s director of trademark licensing, declined to comment on the University’s current licensing contract with New Era.

In 2002, the University terminated its existing contract with New Era after a WRC assessment found that workers at a New Era factory in Derby, N.Y., suffered a disproportionately high amount of workplace-related injuries.

After New Era provided documentation later that year stating that it had resolved the labor issues within the New York factory, the University reinstated its contract with the company.

At least five stores on or near campus – including Moe’s Sport Shop, Ulrich’s Spirit Shop and M-Den – currently sell New Era brand hats bearing the University’s colors and logo.

David Smith, a representative for the Teamsters Union office in Mobile, which represents workers at the facility, said employees initially came to him in April describing instances of discrimination against blacks.

Smith said black workers at the Mobile facility make around $0.45 to $1.15 an hour less than white co-workers, according to information obtained by the Teamsters from New Era.

He added that all but one of the factory’s 20-plus supervisors are white – despite the fact that nearly 90 of the 111 workers at the facility are black.

“Although New Era really seems to care about what they do, they don’t seem to want to share the wealth and acknowledge the hard work of their employees,” Smith said.

In addition, New Era announced on Wednesday plans to lay off 35 workers at the Mobile facility – a decision Smith said was “retaliation” against the Teamsters’ negotiations on behalf of the New Era workers.

Marciniak refuted all accusations of pay discrimination and retaliation against Mobile workers and the Teamsters, stating that last week’s layoffs were part of the company’s normal operations.

Although employees at the Mobile facility voted successfully in July to unionize with the Teamsters, some workers say they’ve experienced hostile conditions within the factory since joining the union.

“Ever since we decided to vote on a union, they just started treating us real bad,” said Jerina Collier, who’s worked at the Mobile facility for two years. “The warehouse has been divided for and against the union – with the supervisors definitely against it.”

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