Ever since student activists first formed USAS in the ’90s, apparel corporations and college administrators insisted it was impossible to produce our schools’ clothes in union factories that pay living wages. It’s time to officially put that excuse to rest.
A decade ago, workers began organizing a union at BJ&B, the Dominican Republic factory making Nike and Reebok caps for U.S. universities. USAS and BJ&B workers struggled together through a series of unprecedented victories and devastating losses. Yesterday, the New York Times announced that former BJ&B unionists are making history again: At the Alta Gracia factory, the courageous women who led the union efforts at BJ&B are finally making university apparel with a strong union and living wages!
Celebrate this major step forward: share the New York Times article, and make a donation to USAS! Your support is crucial to continue the struggle to make every apparel corporation source from union factories and pay a fair price to workers.
In 2003, after 20 BJ&B workers leading the union effort were fired, USAS launched a campaign targeting Nike and Adidas/Reebok, the main brands sourcing from the factory. Not only did workers win their jobs back, but they won a historic union contract with wages and benefits that the New York Times called “unheard of.” But the victory was short lived. Brands began systematically pulling out their business and moving to non-union sweatshops, flagrantly violating universities’ apparel codes of conduct. In 2007 Nike announced the closure of BJ&B – punishing the factory for improving labor standards. USAS and BJ&B workers’ union, FEDOTRAZONAS, fought to bring the good union jobs back to over 2,000 workers left jobless in Villa Altagracia, the community devasted by BJ&B’s closing.
Now, after a decade of campaigns by garment workers and USAS targeting apparel brands, Knights Apparel – Nike’s largest competitor in the collegiate apparel market – has agreed to open the new factory in Villa Altagracia, hire back all of the BJ&B union leaders, recognize their union and pay a fair price so that the union can bargain for living wages. The apparel will be sold in bookstores under the brand name Alta Gracia.
Let’s celebrate this important breakthrough: spread the word, and make a contribution to sustain our movement.
What’s happening in Villa Altagracia is yet another step for USAS and garment workers in changing the university apparel industry. Together we’ll keep working towards the day when all university apparel will be produced in union factories where workers can collectively bargain for living wages.
Congratulations to every generation of USAS organizers who fought in solidarity with BJ&B workers. The struggle continues!