October 19, 2001

Licensing Code May Be at Risk

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The Cornell Organization for Labor Action and Cornell Students Against Sweatshops gathered signatures yesterday to express solidarity with New Era Cap Company workers — who make baseball caps for the Cornell baseball team.

Workers at the Derby, NY plant, located 15 miles south of Buffalo, have been on strike since July 16 when management proposed a cut in wages unless production sped up.

“Today is a national day of action to bring attention and awareness to the New Era campaign,” said Marie Joseph ’03, an event organizer. “Our hopes are not only to bring up awareness but to pressure the [Cornell] administration.”

Cornell is a member of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a collection of over 80 colleges who have agreed to a code of conduct not to use sweatshop labor. In an August report, the WRC outlined “substantial and credible evidence” that New Era’s Derby workers experience uncommonly high levels of on-the-job injuries, including needle punctures and repetitive stress concerns — a fifth of the workers having received surgery or in need of it. The report also accuses New Era of moving workers’ jobs to non-union plants in the South and cutting wages in retaliation for the workers’ ratification of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union.

The WRC has made no final recommendation on the matter, and the University appears to be awaiting an outcome from the strike.

“Nobody has made the decision to ‘cut and run;’ that’s the last thing any organization wants to do, because then there is no ability to negotiate,” said Robert Reese, director of Budget, Human Resources and Product Licensing for Cornell.

Entering its fourteenth week, the strike is seen as a test of the strength of the WRC and universities’ commitment to fend off sweatshop labor.

“What New Era was not counting on is that students across the United States have some say in where products that are sold to their campuses are made and the conditions they are made in,” said Jane N. Howald, president of the striking workers’ union. “Hopefully the pressure that the students will be making on management at New Era will have a positive result.”

Archived article by Peter Norlander