Recent history in University business relations with apparel companies has set a strong precedent for the University’s enforcement of standards for working conditions in companies with contractual relationships to the University. Last year, during the interim presidency of B. Joseph White and under pressure from Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, the University cut its contract with the New Era Cap Co. and successfully pressured the company to negotiate pay and working conditions with their employees at their Derby, N.Y. production facility. In years prior to the New Era victory, SOLE successfully pressured the University to sign on to the Worker Rights Consortium, a non-profit organization designed to enforce a manufacturing code of conduct ensuring basic safety in working conditions for employees of collegiate apparel companies.
More recently, the University’s relationship with a different type of company has come under fire: Morgan Linen Services Inc., the company contracted to do laundry for the Business School’s Executive Residence, the Martha Cook Building and the Lawyer’s Club. Since October, workers at Morgan’s Toledo-based facility and union representatives from United Needletrade, Industrial and Textile Employees have been working with students from SOLE to pressure the University into discontinuing its contract with Morgan.
Coleman has already proposed forming a taskforce to promote ethical purchasing. While this proposal can be an adequate step, the administration should more seriously consider cutting the contract with Morgan altogether until conditions at the facility improve. Unfortunately, negotiations between students and the administration are currently at an impasse and Morgan’s workers are the one’s who will suffer.
Working conditions at the Toledo facility are less than optimal, including harassment and intimidation from management directed at workers who are active in union organizing for UNITE!. The cost of health insurance is currently too much for the employees to afford, and Morgan’s Toledo management has refused to meet concerns about paid sick leave, insurance cost caps and pay raises to make insurance more affordable.
The University is in a strong position right now to help promote and enforce ethical purchasing habits and to set an example for other institutions. As recent history has shown, when the University administration takes steps to press for basic working conditions among its business partners, favorable results follow. As an elite institution in American education, the example set by the University will have ripple effects in the business dealing of other colleges and universities around the country. The University should take this opportunity now, by cutting its relationship with Morgan, to make clear substandard and unfair working conditions will not be tolerated.