Activists held a press conference outside a University Board of Regents meeting yesterday and called for the University to force companies that make its apparel adhere to more stringent labor standards. Several student activists who were arrested and fined for trespassing for holding a sit-in in University President Mary Sue Coleman’s office in the spring also asked Coleman to reimburse them for the fines.
The 12 students arrested in April owe a combined $6,120 in fines. They’re trying to raise money to cover that cost.
They’ve already received $1,000 in donations from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the University’s nurses union.
Yesterday’s protest was supported by Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, the Lecturers’ Employee Organization, the Graduate Employees Organization and the AFL-CIO.
Participants in the April sit-in wanted the University to adopt the Designated Suppliers Program. The program would require clothing manufacturers licensed by the University to pay workers enough to support their families by working no more than 48 hours a week, allow workers to join unions and submit to labor standards inspections.
“It’s easy to get larger unions to support you when a president breaks over 30 years of precedent,” said Blase Kearney, a SOLE member who was arrested in April. “People at this university haven’t been arrested for peaceful protest in thirty years.”
SOLE members said they made progress eight years ago through a similar sit-in that ended when then-University President Lee Bollinger agreed to many of the protesters’ demands. Though a University official said the students participating in the April sit-in were arrested because of changes to security procedures after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Kearney said he thinks University administrators and Coleman specifically are responsible for the arrests.
“By attacking the right to peaceful protest, the University has silenced the voice of students,” the group said in the letter, read by SOLE member Aria Everts, an LSA junior, to a crowd of about 60 people.
The letter also said the University doesn’t value student voices and doesn’t focus on social change.
“The focus is too often on understanding inequities of (globalization) and rarely on rectifying them,” the letter said.