Members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality set up a putt-putt course on the Diag yesterday as part of a National Day of Action organized by United Students Against Sweatshops to show support for labor equality and unionization.
SOLE members said the purpose of the putt-putting was to draw attention to the strike taking place at a New Era Cap Company factory in Derby, N.Y., and gather support from students for their campaign to terminate a contract between the University and New Era until the company proves it is operating under the University”s Code of Conduct for Labor Standards.
New Era makes caps for the University and other colleges, as well as for Major League Baseball and the Professional Golfers” Association.
“We decided that students would be interested to know that New Era doesn”t just make stuff for the University, they make things for other groups,” said RC sophomore and SOLE member Sarah Schwartz Sax.
“Instead of being political all the time, we wanted to provide a more interactive atmosphere,” she added.
Jackie Bray, an LSA sophomore, said the Day of Action was especially important because of the unsafe and unfair practices in place at New Era.
Bray said almost half of New Era factory workers suffer from muscle-skeletal problems and that workers suffer from needle punctures occuring 15 times more often than industry standards permit.
During the Day of Action, students were asked to sign a petition demanding that “the University of Michigan interim president, (B. Joseph White), come out in opposition to New Era Cap Company”s unjust labor practices both directly to the New Era management and publicly through termination of the contract.”
SOLE members” efforts generated more than 300 signatures for their petitions.
The campaign against New Era is a national.
Many other colleges have investigated their contracts with the company since the Worker Rights Consortium released a report addressing complaints and issues concerning New Era”s health safety and unionization practices in August.
The WRC”s findings have led the University”s Labor Standards and Human Rights Committee to question whether or not the University”s contract with the company should be terminated.
However, communication between the University and New Era has been slow.
“On the whole, it”s been decided that there is definitely a problem with how New Era has responded to our requests and that there needs to be something done about this,” said committee member and RC sophomore David Deeg, a member of SOLE.
“The committee sent letters to New Era looking for them to prove they were not in violation with the Code New Era failed to prove that they were not in violation,” Deeg added.
Committee Chair Lawrence Root said that while other colleges and universities have terminated their contracts with New Era, most did so simply by not extending the contracts after they expired.
The contract between the University and New Era does not expire until October, making it more difficult for the University to follow suit.
“One of the things that we”ve been exploring is what are the legal options when we started looking at what is legally possible for us, it sort of slowed us down,” Root said.
He added that the committee is not satisfied by the lack of proof New Era has provided that it is following the university”s Code of Conduct.
“One of the issues that we are talking about is, at what point constitutes saying that this violates the contract?” Root said.