UW Seattle Student Workers Win $15!

By Sara Parolin and Becky Fuller-Phillips

After more than eight months of campaigning, student workers and staff at the University of Washington won a $15/hour minimum wage for all campus workers. In June 2014, Seattle passed a minimum wage ordinance calling for $15/hour by 2017. UW immediately resisted raising the minimum wage, claiming that it was not obligated to follow the city’s law as a state institution. This resistance brought together numerous student organizations, unions, and community members to fight back as part of one major coalition: Reclaim UW. UW USAS was a leading force in the coalition and the fight for $15 on campus, organizing student workers and many of the actions that eventually led to the UW administration conceding.

On Wednesday, April 1st, tens of thousands of workers across Seattle received a wage increase as part of Seattle’s groundbreaking $15/hour minimum wage ordinance. Despite being the single largest employer in Seattle, UW refused to pay at least $15/hour to campus workers. In response, members of UW USAS and Reclaim UW fought back. The first action began with a rally and a march across campus in solidarity with low-wage workers fighting UW‘s refusal to pay fair wages. The organizers then stopped by several UW workplaces and passed out flyers informing UW workers about the University‘s decision to not pay $15/hour.  Along the way students, staff and other community members, including Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, shared personal stories about how receiving a living wage of $15/hour would change their lives. This was only the first step, however, because UW administration still refused to pay campus workers what they deserve: a living wage.

Following the April 1st action, UW USAS and other campus activists organized a large protest, “We’re Hungry for Justice,” that took place during the UW Board of Regents dinner meeting at the exclusive University Club. The protest drew over 100 people, lots of media coverage, and, in the end, pressured the University to agree to raise some non-student workers minimum wages to $11/hour. Not pleased with the selective and modest bump to $11, which should have been already implemented, UW USASers continued the fight to secure $15/hour. The pressure was held on the UW administration for the rest of the year and included another action at the Board of Regents meeting, as well as a study-in in the president’s conference room.

During the summer, many groundbreaking decisions were made at other institutions that were claiming the same excuses as UW. In August, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Seattle-Tacoma Airport was also subject to the minimum wage ordinance. This ruling and others similar weakened the UW’s argument for not following the ordinance. Just before Autumn quarter began, the UW finally announced their decision to follow the Seattle minimum wage ordinance, and raise ALL minimum wages to $15/hour by 2017. This makes UW the first university in the country to have a $15/hour minimum wage for all campus workers, including student workers!

Sign the Petition: Nobody Should Die for UW Fashion

Since 2005, over 600 Bangladeshi garment workers have died in preventable factory fires throughout Bangladesh.

The most recent of these tragedies took place last November, killing 112 workers who were trapped inside a garment factory called Tazreen Fashions. These workers, many of whom were women and children, burned alive because of inadequate fire safety regulations and their managers’ orders to continue working so the factory could meet the production deadlines for companies like Walmart and the GAP.

Can you take a stand? Sign this petition and ask UW apparel licensees to sign onto the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Agreement. Nobody should die for our UW fashion.

Our group, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) has been organizing at the UW for over a decade to advocate for better working conditions in factories where collegiate apparel is produced. We use our power as students to put a stop to the working conditions that allowed for tragedies like the Tazreen factory fire.

On Tuesday April 23rd, USAS will be bringing Sumi Abedin, a survivor of the Tazreen tragedy to our UW campus. Sumi will be talking about how she survived the tragic fire and the on-going problem of fire safety in the Bangladesh garment sector. In addition to Sumi, internationally recognized labor rights advocate, Kalpona Akter will lead a discussion on the Bangladeshi garment industry, her experiences as a garment worker and how UW students can get involved in improving conditions in the international garment industry.

We can make a difference. Add your name to the list of students who are already standing up for enforceable fire safety regulations at the UW.

From Seattle to Managua: Victory at the University of Washington and Flying Needle!

By Rachel Shevrin and Morgan Currier, USAS organizers at the University of Washington

Beginning in March 2012, members of University of Washington USAS started a campaign against Adidas over the brand’s refusal to pay Indonesian garment workers at the PT Kizone factory $1.8 million in legally owed severance. Our demand was that the UW sever ties with the brand unless they agreed to remediate their labor violations.

We started our campaign by educating the campus about Adidas through holding a teach-in, followed up by the delivery of a giant check to the President of the University. The check was for $1.8 million dollars and made out to Adidas. We delivered this check to President Michael Young with the hope that he would take action to ensure Adidas paid this money owed to their workers.

After we continued to hold similar actions on campus to put pressure on President Young to cut our contract with Adidas, members of UW USAS put Gregg Nebel, Adidas’ Director of Social and Environmental Affairs, in the hot seat, demanding that he leave a licensing committee meeting a bit earlier than he intended.

After hearing straight from the brand that they had no intention to pay severance to the PT Kizone workers, UW students continued campaigning full force, urging President Young to cut the contract. After more actions took place, including ones where we dressed up like zombies and threw on our PJs in the middle of the afternoon, we had another chance to speak to Mr. Nebel at the annual meeting of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which took place on our campus. Again, in front of his fellow board members, students confronted Nebel directly about Adidas’ refusal to take any responsibility for paying the workers at PT Kizone.

Last week, we received word from President Young that he would be ending our business relationship with Adidas, effective immediately. What is especially significant about this action is that President Young did not include a remediation period that is customary of contract cuts. Because of our strong campaign and Adidas’ blatant refusal to be held accountable, President Young decided to take a harder stance and sever ties immediately with Adidas midway through the contract.

This victory also coincided with another victory for Adidas workers this week. In May 2012, workers at Flying Needle, a Adidas supplier factory in Nicaragua, formed a union to exercise their legal right to bargain for an end to sweatshop conditions in their factory. After the formation of the union, Flying Needle management initiated an aggressive anti-union campaign, which included the illegal firing of 17 union leaders.

After management’s initial wave of 12 anti-union dismissals in May and early June, the union filed a complaint with the Nicaraguan Ministry of Labor. After conducting an investigation, the Ministry of Labor declared these firings illegal under Nicaraguan law on June 8th, stating that “the workers must be reinstated.”

In response to militant worker action and pressure from students, this week Flying Needle agreed to reinstate all the elected union leaders with full back pay! The victory at the UW, as well as other USAS campaigns across the country, offered the support these brave workers needed in order to fight and win against this Adidas supplier.

Still, the events at Flying Needle illustrate fundamental flaws in Adidas’ treatment of workers in its supply chain. Adidas claims to consistently monitor its factories to ensure compliance with local labor law, Flying Needle demonstrates that the opposite is true. For five months, Adidas did nothing to secure the reinstatement of the unjustly fired workers, even after the Ministry of Labor had directed local management to do so. It was only when workers reached out directly to international labor rights organizations and buyers that Adidas acted to encourage their supplier to remediate the violations.

Moreover, Flying Needle is far from an isolated case for Adidas. Union leaders were also illegally fired when they formed unions at Adidas suppliers Augusta Manufacturing (Nicaragua) in March 2012 and Pinehurst Manufacturing (Honduras) in August 2010. Adidas has failed to implement any comprehensive solutions to stem this pattern of anti-union behavior.

Nevertheless, the victories at Flying Needle and the University of Washington are a true testament to the power of student-worker solidarity. From everyone in UW USAS, we look forward to standing in solidarity with other campuses taking action against Adidas because we know WHEN WE FIGHT, WE WIN!

Victory: Western Washington U Aramark Workers Win Union!

Aramark workers and students at Western Washington University are celebrating today after last night’s announcement that they had won their union! For nearly two years now, Western food service has been under fire for contracting with two of the three biggest food service providers, Sodexo and Aramark. Almost a year ago now, students at Western joined forces with students at the University of Washington in Seattle to successfully end their contracts with Sodexo after major protests over their international worker rights abuses. Today, food service workers celebrate their new union and new working class victory over corporate greed.

Students at Western Washington have been keeping an eye on their food service provider for years. Before Aramark came onto the Western campus, the human rights abusing company Sodexo ran services for nearly 50 years. When students found out that Sodexo was violating the rights of workers across the globe and in particular heard from Carina Mieses, a Sodexo worker in the Dominican Republic, they began mobilizing to make sure their school had nothing to do with Sodexo and have them kicked off campus. Carina visited Western Washington as part of the Sodexo Truth Tour nearly a year ago speaking out about her experience of enduring constant management intimidation, refused time off to care for her daughter with respiratory illnesses, and ultimately getting fired when she tried to organize for a union at her workplace. Word spread nationally about not just Carina’s story but also the stories of Sodexo workers from Morocco to Colombia. By March of 2011, campaigns at campuses across the nation escalated to occupations of presidents’ offices and eventually dozens of student arrest.  It’s no surprise then, that Western administrators ended their 50 year relationship with Sodexo and University of Washington followed suit months later and refused to renew their contract with Sodexo.

Today, Aramark runs food service at Western and since the beginning of this school year they’ve been intimidating Western workers, slashing their hours and pay. Workers quickly got fed up and made it clear that they weren’t going to take it anymore. They began mobilizing early in this Spring semester and built up their numbers in no time. Aramark just as quickly started making attempts to stop workers’ organizing efforts. Aramark distributed anti-union letters to employees and after worker and student outrage, WWU administration did not want more Big 3 related student protest and warned Aramark to stop. While they stopped the letters, Aramark continued vocally intimidating workers from organizing.

But Aramark’s classic union busting tactics didn’t work. Over the past couple months, students started to mobilize alongside workers. They collected petitions from students on campus, received the support of their student government, and joined workers and community leaders for delegations demanding WWU President Shepard take a stand for the workers and tell Aramark to put an end to their union busting tactics. Yesterday when workers were set to make their final decision on unionizing, students were right by their side. Last night, 100 Western Washington Aramark workers became member of SEIU 925. Aramark worker Chrispy Stift put it best, “I was confident all along”.

In December of 2011, we wrapped up the year with food service workers on 11 campuses winning unions despite the corporate greed of the Big 3 food service providers.  Just last month, Northeastern workers employed by Chartwells beat back the corporate attack in Boston and won representation by Unite Here!. Time and time again, students and workers prove that when we fight back together, we win.

Congratulations to the workers and students at Western Washington University! Look out, Big 3!

USAS at the University of Washington Pressures Adidas to Pay PT Kizone Workers

Originally posted in The Daily at the University of Washington, May 11, 2012 

By Jillian Stampher

As of Friday, May 11, 2012

A large blue check for $1.8 million sits in UW President Michael Young’s office after being presented by members of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) on Friday afternoon.

The check, signed by members of the UW community, was meant to remind Young to present a letter of final notice to the adidas Group, with which the university has an apparel contract. The $1.8 million refers to the money adidas allegedly owes its workers in Indonesia, after their severance. This would be a violation of the UW’s code of conduct.

The UW is not alone in facing these student demands — Georgetown University is investigating labor violations and the University of Wisconsin ended its contract with adidas due to the alleged violations in February of this year.

Earlier this year USAS demanded Young end the contract with the company. To reiterate this, the group sent a letter to the president with its demands. Janis Marks, Young’s scheduler, said he received their letter but she doesn’t know his current status on the response. Young was not in his office during the presentation of the check.

“It’s in the works and that’s rather broad and I don’t know enough to get any more narrowed in on that,” Marks said.

USAS member Grace Flott said the group did not expect to speak directly with Young, but members are hoping for a quick response.

“He’s already been given this recommendation and we hope that having that check in front of him will just serve as a reminder that the student body is really upset about the situation with Adidas,” Flott said. “We hope that he will take that consideration seriously and put him on notice by the end of the week.”

Reach reporter Jillian Stampher at email hidden; JavaScript is required. Twitter: @JillianStampher

Want to end sweatshop abuse and help build worker power in the global economy? Join USAS’s Anti-Sweatshop Campaigns Committee!

 

UW Committee Puts Adidas In The ‘Hot Seat’

Originally posted in The Daily at the University of Washington, February 23, 2012 

Gregg Nebel, head of social and environmental affairs for Adidas group, responds to questions and concerns of the Advisory Committee on Trademarks and Licensing.

The UW’s licensing contract with Adidas is being questioned after the company allegedly violated the university’s code of conduct.

The UW’s Advisory Committee on Trademarks and Licensing, students, and an Adidas representative met yesterday to discuss if workers will be compensated for thousands of hours of employment, and what that means for the contract between Adidas and the UW.

Members of the committee said Adidas’ refusal to pay $1.8 million in severance to workers in Indonesia who make Adidas apparel violates the contract the company has with the university.

UW United Students Against Sweatshops (UW USAS) members and other students came to the meeting to express their concerns. They believe two standards were violated: one, that Adidas allegedly did not achieve “maximum possible compliance” with the UW’s code of conduct, and two, that the rights of the employees to collective bargaining were not recognized.

Gregg Nebel, head of social and environmental affairs for Adidas Group, said Adidas is not legally responsible for paying that compensation, and that Adidas did follow the UW’s code of conduct when employers monitored the factory both internally and externally.

“When we were in that factory, we were monitoring, and we didn’t find any issues,” he said. “We did fulfill what the code was requiring.”

Committee co-chair Bruce Kochis said companies should be held to the highest standard possible, and Adidas has a moral obligation to try to compensate workers.

UW USAS member and co-chair Katy Lundgren added that the problem in a factory in El Salvador, Erasmus — where 360 workers were uncompensated for years until they were recently paid — shows that the issue is an ongoing occurrence that should be stopped.

“It’s a repeat case of the same type of thing that is happening,” she said. “This continues to occur, and that is disturbing to me as it’s concerning to everyone in the room.”

Committee member and professor Aseem Prakash said Adidas should take responsibility for the factories they do business with and their workers.

“We want to work with you,” Prakash said. “I think we have a common goal, and the goal is to ensure workers are treated justly. … We want the legal and the moral right of the worker to be protected.”

Main concerns Nebel and the committee addressed were trusting the wrong factories and insurance for workers to get compensation. Adidas outsources production to factories it does not own.

Committee member Norm Arkans, UW associate vice president for communications and media relations, brought up the question of whether placing pressure on Adidas to pay the compensation will cause the factories to which it outsources production — such as PT Kizone in Indonesia — to take less responsibility for honoring their workers’ rights.

Nebel assured the committee that Adidas will not be paying the severance. The committee’s next step is deciding whether the UW will continue its contract with Adidas.

“It’s very clear as glass that Adidas will not be paying severance,” UW USAS co-chair Morgan Currier said. “It seems like this is a very blatant issue that you could solve tomorrow if you really wanted to. I think that’s all the information we need regarding our contract with Adidas.”

Nebel said Adidas is funding the basic needs of factory workers abroad, such as medical coverage and other basic needs. He added that there is already a standard for the factories Adidas chooses to invest in.

“We have not reached the end of the day,” Nebel said. “We continue to address issues around workers in the PT Kizone.”

Regardless of the committee’s decision, Kochis said members of the committee should work to place more pressure on Adidas before resolving the issue.

“Whatever it is [we decide], I think it’s really important that we put Adidas in the hot seat,” he said.

The UW’s Advisory Committee on Trademarks and Licensing will meet early next week to continue discussion about the university’s contract with Adidas.

Reach Features Editor Hayat Norimine at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Eleven victories in 2011: Celebrate an incredible year for the student movement!

You already know that 2011 has been an incredible year. But we think you’ll be blown away by this list of 11 incredible victories that USAS activists won alongside workers this year. Each of these 11 victories builds the power of workers’ unions and students. Next year, as we celebrate USAS’s 15th anniversary, we need to keep building students’ and workers’ power to defeat the challenges that corporations and the 1% pose to our democracy, our jobs and our education. Make it happen by contributing to USAS on the right-hand side of this page. Then share this page on Facebook. Happy holidays!

1.

Food service workers won unions on 11 campuses as students kicked out Sodexo for union-busting.

The “Big 3” outsourcing giants control the business of feeding students: Sodexo, Aramark and Compass. In 2011, Big 3 workers on at least 11 campuses won struggles to form unions, the crucial first step towards ending sweatshop conditions in our dining halls (see: list of campuses where workers won unions). Some joined UNITE HERE and others joined SEIU. Meanwhile, students organized 6 major sit-ins in Spring 2011 protesting Sodexo’s union-busting (especially in the Dominican Republic), part of the wave of 13 occupations that led to 76 arrests of USAS activists. This month, the University of Washington ended its 25-year relationship with Sodexo in response to protests of its union-busting in the D.R., the fifth college to sever ties with Sodexo amidst protest this year. We proved students can terminate colleges’ multi-million dollar contracts with the outsourcing giants to bolster workers’ struggle for justice, a key step towards reversing the race-to-the-bottom created by lowest-bidder corporate outsourcing of campus jobs.

2.

Honduran workers sewing college apparel won a ground-breaking Collective Bargaining Agreement.

This May, the workers of Fruit of the Loom’s Jerzees Nuevo Día and their union, SitraJerzees, won an unheard-of 26.5% wage increase and safer machinery in their first-ever collective bargaining agreement after 9 months of negotiations. Fruit of the Loom, Honduras’ largest private employer, opened Jerzees Nuevo Día in 2009 after USAS and SitraJerzees ran the largest collegiate boycott of a single company ever to reverse Fruit’s shuttering a 1,200-worker factory in retaliation for union organizing. During the Rein-In Russell campaign, over 100 colleges and the retailer Sport Authority severed ties with Fruit’s Russell Athletic brand. The campaign achieved a first-of-its-kind national union neutrality agreement between Fruit and SitraJerzees. Today, garment workers are continuing the struggle to organize in all of Fruit’s factories across Honduras.

3.

Rutgers USAS won NJ’s lowest tuition hike in 2 decades.

After Rutgers USAS built a coalition that organized a 600-student walkout and a 2-day sit-in that grabbed NY Times headlines, New Jersey’s state university approved the lowest tuition hikes in two decades (1.6 percent for in-state students). Rutgers’ board rejected the proposed tuition hike from university president Richard McCormick, who resigned shortly afterwards. This is a crucial victory as the right to affordable, quality higher education is under attack for all students and especially undocumented students across the nation.

4.

Universities commit to stop investing in HEI’s sweatshop hotels as hotel workers ramp up the fight for fairness.

HEI Hotels workers across the country are fighting for fair treatment at work. Because HEI depends on investments from university endowments, since early 2009 students have campaigned to end their school’s investment in “sweatshop hotels”. In a huge step forward this year, Brown University’s USAS affiliate (Brown SLA) won its multi-year campaign when Brown committed to stop investing in HEI. Then UPenn’s USAS affiliate (UPenn SLAP), had a major victory when UPenn responded to students’ campaign by announcing it has no current plans to invest in HEI. Most recently Yale committed to make no further investment, and Cornell and Harvard have responded to student campaigns, too. As we continue the nation-wide student non-reinvestment campaign, the hospitality workers’ union UNITE HERE has placed four HEI-owned hotels under boycott. Plus, HEI has now settled or been held liable on 32 wage and hour complaints for a total of $99,999 at the Embassy Suites Irvine.

5.

College bookstores doubled their orders for the only union-made, living wage college apparel.

This year was a crucial test for Alta Gracia, the Dominican Republic factory where long-time union activists are sewing college apparel, and students rose to the challenge. We urged our college bookstores to support this important project. Orders for Alta Gracia doubled this year, with over 400 college bookstores now carrying products sewn by Sitralpro union members — the same workers who spent a decade together with USAS fighting Nike’s sweatshop abuses at the BJ&B factory in Villa Altagracia.

6.

We beat attacks on Ohio workers’ union rights and won a pro-worker majority in Wisconsin.

In 2011, we fought back against bold attacks by corporate-funded politicians on workers’ basic right to collective bargaining. When Wisconsin governor Scott Walker launched his attack on public employees’ right to bargain, USAS’s oldest affiliate mobilized thousands of University of Wisconsin-Madison undergrads and joined forces with campus workers’ unions to begin the occupation of the state capitol that inspired labor activists worldwide. While Walker’s bill is still in effect, Wisconsites kicked out enough anti-worker state legislators in this year’s elections so that now a majority of the legislature opposes Walker’s bill!

Meanwhile, to defeat Ohio’s Senate Bill 5 (a.k.a. Issue 2), Ohio State USAS found time between organizing a sit-in and fighting a backdoor deal with the Dallas Cowboys to join the statewide effort that collected 1.3 million signatures to repeal SB5 and overwhelmingly won the referendum to kill the bill in November.

7.

Rite Aid warehouse workers won a five-year struggle to stop sweatshop conditions after students took the campaign nation-wide.

After USAS members voted to create a Rapid Response system in 2009, the first test of this system was our campaign in solidarity with Rite Aid warehouse workers in Lancaster, CA, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. USAS-coordinated days of action expanded the West Coast union’s impact directly to the doorstep of Rite Aid stores nation-wide. Finally, this May, the workers finally won a strong union contract that gives workers control over the often dangerous pace of work. Workers also beat back dramatic healthcare cutbacks the company had demanded.

8.

More universities affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium as our colleges’ labor rights monitor completes its 10th year.

It’s been a decade since USAS activists did the unthinkable and forced our universities to create an anti-sweatshop monitor that students dreamed up. Today, the Worker Rights Consortium is the premiere labor rights monitoring organization, boasting over 180 affiliated colleges and universities. The WRC remains unique in its absolute independence from corporate funding, in stark contrast to a certain corporate-controlled monitor (hint: see #9).

This year, not only did U.S. universities including Emory and Xavier newly affiliate with the WRC, but the movement went international in a huge way. In the United Kingdom, where students’ unions control most university apparel purchasing, the National Union of Students voted to affiliate NUS Services, the purchasing consortium for 84 U.K. universities, with the WRC! But in 2012 students will be campaigning to finally affiliate some of the most stubborn major sports schools, including UTSAS at the University of Texas, Austin — the nation’s largest licensor of college apparel.

9.

Santa Clara dropped the corporate-controlled “Fair” Labor Association.

Just as USAS activists compel more colleges to join the legitimate WRC, we’re also beating back the corporations’ sham “Fair” Labor Association, notorious for whitewashing the sweatshop abuses of companies that pay their bills and sit on their board, like Nike and Adidas. Finally, just days ago Santa Clara’s USAS affiliate won its “Don’t Pay the FLA” campaign. Students and Cornell, Penn State and Rutgers USAS affiliates have been escalating campaigns around the same demand for over a year, so the heat is on!

In another important blow to corporate whitewashing, greenwashing and “fairwashing”, United Students for Fair Trade rocked the “ethical consumption” world when they joined USAS in publicly condemning Fair Trade USA (formerly TransFair), including its widely-criticized “fair trade” apparel program.

10.

First-ever collegiate boycott in solidarity with tobacco farmworkers hit RJ Reynolds where it hurts.

Last week, Rutgers USAS made a major first step in stopping sweatshop conditions in tobacco fields: the Barnes & Noble-operated campus bookstore agreed to immediately stop selling RJ Reynolds products, including American Spirits and Camel cigarettes. This momentum will propel forward students’ solidarity efforts on other campuses. Last summer, USAS and MEChA activists organized a delegation to the tobacco fields of North Carolina to meet with farmworkers and learn about RJ Reynolds refusing to negotiate with farmworkers’ union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. We were outraged by the working conditions and living conditions, and inspired by farmworkers’ struggle for union rights in spite of their historical exclusion from national labor law. In 2004, some 8,000 FLOC-affiliated farmworkers won the first-ever union contract for guest farmworkers against the Mt. Olive Pickle company after campus boycott campaigns by USAS activists at UNC, Duke, Florida State and Michigan State.

11.

We built powerful new student coalitions to Occupy Wall Street and make banks pay.

With the energy and experience of the spring semester’s 13 on-campus occupations plus occupying Wisconsin state capitol under our belt, USAS snapped into action when the Occupy Wall Street movement sprang up. USAS activists at schools including Northeastern University, University of Washington and New York University were among the first to organize massive student walk-outs to join the Occupy movements in their cities. Many USASers have been arrested defending Occupy encampments. But we know these actions alone won’t make Wall Street banks pay up: We also organized four “Fight Back!” Organizer Boot Camps across the country. There, we trained students from 64 colleges in organizing and campaigning basics, including students from Occupy movements, undocumented students’ groups, and many others. (If you haven’t seen the video yet, check it out now for some inspiration!)

U. Washington Kicks Out Sodexo! D.R. Workers’ Struggle Gains Momentum as U.S. Workers Win Unions

Read more: Seattle Times (12/14) – UW Daily (12/14) – UW USAS (12/14) – Associated Students of UW (12/14)

Today, the University of Washington ended its 25-year relationship with Sodexo following a massive campaign by UW USAS and the UW Kick Out Sodexo Coalition. The decision is a major boost to a campaign by students across the US, UK and Canada in solidarity with Sodexo workers in the Dominican Republic facing a fierce crackdown from the company as they struggle against sweatshop conditions.

A key victory for the international campaign to end Sodexo’s labor abuse in the Dominican Republic

UW is the fifth university this year to drop Sodexo amidst student protest over labor abuse, following Western Washington University, Northeastern University, Regis University and Pomona College. The campus food service giant has lost its very last contract with a public university in the entire state of Washington.

Earlier this year, UW students traveled to Sodexo’s work site in Pueblo Viejo, Dominican Republic, and were shocked by workers’ stories of abuse. The coalition hosted a powerful on-campus event with Karina Mieses, a Pueblo Viejo worker who Sodexo fired after she began speaking up against illegal wage theft, sub-poverty wages and harassment from management. She and her co-workers — over 300 Sodexo employees at Barrick Gold’s massive Pueblo Viejo gold mine — formed a union to improve working conditions, called SitraSodexoDO. But Sodexo responded by firing Karina along with at least three other union leaders, a flagrant violation of workers’ basic freedom of association.

Finally the coalition organized not one, not two, but three sit-ins to urge their university to kick out Sodexo unless the situation in Pueblo Viejo was resolved. UW arrested a total of 50 students to try to stop the movement. Sodexo even flew out top exec Thomas Mackall to dissuade UW administrators from heeding students’ demands.

But after Sodexo refused to re-hire any of the D.R. workers fired for speaking out against the abuse, and refused legally-mandated negotiations to improve working conditions, the UW finally said enough is enough and dropped Sodexo.  As always, students and workers united can never be defeated!

Sodexo will be replaced by Aramark, another corporate outsourcing giant. While UW USAS celebrates the hard line their university took against Sodexo’s labor abuse, they are already planning efforts to hold Aramark accountable to the same standard. After a campaign like UW USAS ran this year, Aramark knows it better be on its best behavior.

A wake-up call to the corporate giants of campus food service

The decision at UW is a wake up call to the “Big 3” giants of outsourced campus services: Sodexo, Aramark and Compass. All three multinational corporations make massive profits from both cutting corners on food quality and exploiting workers. The companies sub-poverty wages and fierce union-busting don’t just stay far-away overseas — To the contrary, these sorts of sweatshop conditions are rampant on our own campuses.

But campus workers and students are fighting back! Just this year, workers on our campuses have gained a union and voice at the workplace for the very first time: Sodexo workers at Morehouse College, Loyola University Maryland, Stevenson University in Baltimore, Ursinus College, Whittier College, Loyola Marymount University, St. Peter’s College and Ohio Dominican University. Aramark workers at Georgetown University and Carleton University in Ottawa. And Chartwells (Compass) workers at Dominican University in Chicago.

At a time when companies everywhere tout the economic downturn as an excuse to strip away workers’ rights and protections, students and workers have proven that when we stand together, not even a multinational corporation can stop us.

We won’t stop till D.R. Sodexo workers win justice!

Our demands of Sodexo are very simple:

  1. Re-hire every Pueblo Viejo worker fired in retaliation for speaking out against sweatshop conditions. This includes Maria Magdalena Ortega Jimenez, Carin Yadel Mieses, Maraquia Penalo Rodriguez and Heriberto Sosa Morillo.
  2. Improve working conditions in Pueblo Viejo by completing the legally-mandated collective bargaining process with workers’ union, SitraSodexoDO.
If Sodexo had any doubt that we are serious, we hope the UW decision today makes crystal clear that we will not tolerate labor rights abuse by any company doing business with our schools. The UW victory has inspired and energized all of us, and we are ready to stand with D.R. Sodexo workers in their courageous fight for justice!

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A Coalition to be Reckoned with: MEChA and USAS Kick Out Sodexo!

A report from University of Washington students Gaby Guillén and Morgan Currier who allied MEChA and USAS on their campus through the Kick Out Sodexo Campaign.

My name is Gabriela Guillén and I am a member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán (MEChA) at the University of Washington. MEChA was founded on the principles of self-determination for the liberation of our people. Our group believes that political involvement and education is the avenue for change in our society and that’s why we joined the Kick Out Sodexo Coalition on the University of Washington campus. MEChA has been a strong ally of United Students Against Sweatshops as we recognize that everyone involved in this campaign is part of a much larger movement of people who are fighting for equality and justice just as we are. After spending time working with USAS organizers like Morgan Currier, we realized just how similar our organizational values were. This is our story.

The school year was coming to an end and our patience was running low for the University of Washington administration to respond to our demands to terminate our school’s contract with Sodexo. As members of USAS and MEChA were meeting up for our third occupation of the month, our plans were shaken when we found the police were already waiting for us at our secret meeting location. Despite this, we were determined to continue with our action and had to think on feet to come up with a new strategy to get twenty-five students to the Office of Admissions before the police did. So, with the police on our tail, our group ran through alleys and took any possible route to get to the office for our sit-in. When we finally made it into the building and up three flights of stairs, we began our most exciting occupation yet. Members of MEChA and USAS spent the next three hours together negotiating, chanting, and singing until fifteen students were arrested by the administration. This level of student solidarity didn’t develop over night, and in fact, it took nine months of struggle to get to this point.

Since 1997 university students as part of USAS, along with allied campus groups, have been holding companies accountable for their human rights and labor violations. Using a combination of student power and multi-million dollar contracts with our schools, students have been able to improve the way companies like Russell and Nike do business. This past year, USAS at the University of Washington, in solidarity with universities across the nation, ran a campaign to end our school’s contract with the food service giant, Sodexo. This global employer has been cited for union busting, discriminating based on race and gender, and paying workers sub-poverty wages. If our university truly cared about human rights, they could no longer do business with companies like Sodexo who blatantly violate the rights of their workers in five different countries.

Terminating Sodexo’s $3.4 million contract with the UW was not going to be an easy feat but with a small group of determined students, we began our struggle. We started delivering letters to our university president, Phyllis Wise, informing her about the injustices being carried out by Sodexo. But even after we voiced serious concerns and presented the evidence of Human Rights Watch and TransAfrica Forum, President Wise refused to take any meaningful action.

As the administrators dragged their feet, throwing a variety of meaningless excuses our way for why they couldn’t cut Sodexo’s contract, we began to spread word of our campaign like wildfire across the campus community. When students found out about Sodexo’s human rights violations and the administration’s lack of concern, many were eager to get involved. It was then that we formed the UW Kick Out Sodexo Coalition, a group of twenty student groups united in the fight to kick Sodexo off our campus. These groups included MEChA, UW Amnesty International, UW Hillel, and the UW Food Co-op; campus groups who haven’t been united in years.

Although the UW Kick Out Sodexo Coalition applied more pressure through rallies and gaining community support, by April the administration continued to assure us that “there was no basis for termination”. Translation: we don’t care about your concerns. We were becoming increasingly frustrated with their excuses and running out of patience for them to act on the demands of the campus community. After holding numerous rallies, providing faculty letters, passing an ASUW resolution, and earning the support of the campus community, it was obvious that we shouldn’t be doing business with this toxic company. We gave the administration plenty of evidence and even satisfied their demand to hear from Sodexo representatives who flew in from Washington, D.C. We decided we needed to use direct action to get the administration’s attention so that the voices of students and community were heard once and for all.

On the morning of May 10, sixty students marched into President Wise’s office and refused to leave until the contract with Sodexo was cut. Instead of hearing what the students had to say, President Wise was escorted out by police, leaving her students to wait. She never returned to her office to talk to us. Seven hours and twenty-seven student arrests later, every student, faculty member, community leader, Seattle newspaper, and local news station knew just how serious this struggle had become and was looking to the UW administration to take action.

The next couple days consisted of holding rallies, crashing the board of reagents meeting with news cameras, and continuing to spread awareness. The campus community needed to know that our administration would rather arrest twenty-seven students than cancel their contract with a global human rights violator. The weeks seemed to come and go but our voices continued to be shunned. The administration left us no choice but to stage a second occupation, this time targeting the athletics department where Sodexo’s contract was housed. A number of students marched into the office of the Director of Athletics with a rally of one hundred students following in their footsteps. But again, after three hours, the administration chose to arrest students rather than seriously discuss their concerns.

The last time the University of Washington had three consecutive sit-ins was in 1980 over student concerns with minority rights on campus. And now, twenty one years later, students had to once again unite in direct action to demand that students voices be heard. This time, UW USAS and MEChA de UW worked closely to organize a third occupation of the Office of Admissions. After two hours, eighteen more students were arrested. If you haven’t been keeping track, that’s fifty-five total student arrests that the administration issued rather than cutting Sodexo’s contract.

As we sat with our arms linked in the final moments of the third occupation, we were in total disbelief of the administration’s actions, not just on that day, but throughout the year. “When I applied to this university, I applied to the University of Washington — not the Washington Business Bureau” yelled Roxana Garcia, a co-chair of MEChA de UW. Especially in light of extreme budget cuts and the university gaining complete tuition-setting power, the administration’s reaction to student concerns was frightening. How can we ever combat major tuition increases if the university won’t even work with us to make our school a more ethical institution?

It’s summer now and we’re getting closer to Sodexo being removed from our campus. But as we reflect on our year of campaigning, we’ve learned and accomplished so much! Who knew two girls under 5’2” could unite two groups of students to put the scare into the 21st largest employer in the world? Now we know where students’ decision-making power truly lies within our university, and although we are deeply concerned about our power-tripping administration, we’ve had a huge victory for student voices on campus. As we chanted throughout the year “The students united will never be divided,” it’s clear that now, more than ever, unity is the most instrumental tactic in tackling campus issues. Student groups like MEChA, Students Organizing for LGBTQ Equality (SOLE), Black Student Union, and USAS, who are struggling for justice, need to stand together to fight for what’s right on our campuses. The time is now to take back our universities!

76 USAS activists arrested during wave of 13 occupations this spring!

Occupations, sit-ins, study-ins. Headlines and handcuffs. Sounds like USAS in the springtime!

This year, USAS-affiliated groups organized 13 occupations in university presidents offices, and those university presidents ordered a total of 76 arrests of USAS activists who were simply expressing their view that our schools must respect the rights of workers and students. (CHECK OUT THE LIST OF OCCUPATIONS BELOW!) Our actions stood on the shoulders of a long tradition of USAS engaging in non-violent direct action when our administrators leave us no other choice. (In 2008, over 50 USAS activists were arrested during a wave of anti-sweatshop sit-ins.)

But that’s only part of the story. In February, USAS’s oldest affiliate, SLAC at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, mobilized thousands of undergrads to join the now-historic occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol protesting Governor Scott Walker’s bill to strip public workers’ right to negotiate collectively. This amazing act of solidarity, paired with ongoing outrageous attacks from corporate-backed politicians in states across the nation, (not to mention the hard work and passion of countless student organizers,) provoked the largest spike in militant student action for economic justice since the era of the massive student-labor protests against the WTO and corporate globalization.

Civil disobedience has been been central to the student movement for social justice ever since the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins sparked a national student movement for racial justice, the Student National Coordinating Committee, and inspired civil rights activists everywhere. With this spring’s actions, USAS groups mobilized and trained literally hundreds of students to engage in non-violent direct action for the first time ever. Corporations, their pet politicians and university administrators better recognize there’s a new generation of pissed off student organizers that has gained the skills to take action and win!

Here’s a quick list, with links to press articles, of all the action that happened! And if you haven’t seen it yet, check out the video on spring 2011 USAS actions!

1.

April 20, College of William & Mary: Five students were arrested when President Taylor Reveley ordered police to shut down a 16-hour sit-in by the Living Wage Coalition, a broad array of student groups supporting campus housekeepers’ campaign for livable pay. (LWC)

2.

April 21, Tulane University: More than 20 Tulane students occupied President Scott Cowen’s office over his refusal to take any concrete steps to address a series of human rights violations by the university’s dining contractor, Sodexo, against its workers on campus, elsewhere in the U.S., and overseas. Tulane itself faced federal charges for abetting Sodexo by unlawfully removing and harassing supporters of the dining hall workers’ union efforts. (TUPAC)

3.

April 25, Emory University: Emory University in Atlanta arrests 7 students to shut down a peaceful “tent city” protesting the university’s contract with Sodexo, just days after Emory police removed dozens of students from a peaceful sit-in at President James Wagner’s office. (SWS)

4.

April 26, University of Wisconsin, Madison: As action continued at the Wisconsin State Capitol down the street, the Student Labor Action Coalition — the nation’s oldest USAS affiliate — led a sit-in to protest the privatization scheme being pushed by Governor Scott Walker and Chancellor Biddy Martin. After the sit-in, the plan to separate and privatize UW-Madison fizzled, although some negative aspects still snuck through due to the 11 lobbyists hired specifically for this task. (SLAC)

5.

April 27, Rutgers University: One week after organizing a 600-student walk out, Rutgers USAS led a 2-day occupation of their administration building to protest tuition hikes, cuts to campus workers, and the school’s financial support for the Nike-sponsored “Fair” Labor Association. After the “Rutgers 9” made NY Times headlines, the university agreed to the lowest tuition hike in two decades (1.6 percent) and President Richard McCormick resigned. (RUSAS)

6.

April 29, University of Texas, Austin: UT-Austin rakes in more money from college-logo apparel than any other university in the world, yet it is one of the last major U.S. universities still refusing take a serious stand against sweatshops by affiliating with the Worker Rights Consortium. UT Students Against Sweatshops staged a sit-in immediately following a meeting where President William Powers outright refused to join the anti-sweatshop consortium. (UT SAS)

7.

May 11, University of Washington: University of Washington arrests 27 students staging a peaceful sit-in at the office of President Phyllis Wise to demand she finally terminate the university’s contract with Sodexo. (UW USAS)

8.

May 11, Cornell University: Students staged a study-in to protest President David Skorton’s continued refusal to heed students’ pleas to sever the university’s financial ties with the Nike-sponsored “Fair Labor Association”, a group that courts university funding only to white-wash the very apparel corporations it purports to “monitor” as these same companies control its board. (CSAS/COLA)

9.

May 13, University of Maryland, College Park: Students staged a study-in at President Wallace Loh’s office for over 6 hours protesting the university’s contract with union-busting cleaning supplies company Daycon, which had been found guilty of violating federal labor law just months earlier during an ongoing strike by Daycon workers. (FWB)

10.

May 19, University of Washington: University of Washington arrests 13 more students occupying the office of Athletics Director Scott Woodward to urge an end to that department’s stadium concessions contract with Sodexo. (UW USAS)

11.

May 23, Ohio State University: Ohio State arrests 9 students during a nonviolent sit-in at President Gordon Gee’s office to end Sodexo’s contract with OSU’s controversy-plagued Athletics department. (Ohio State USAS)

12.

June 1, University of Washington: University of Washington arrests 15 students during a sit-in at the admissions office to once again demand the university end its contract with Sodexo. (UW USAS)

13.

June 2, University of Chicago: University of Chicago students held a study-in urging President Robert Zimmer to stop an outsourcing overhaul that threatened the livelihoods of campus housekeepers who had served the university community for years, even decades. (UChicago SOUL)