March 1, 2002

S.A. Sides With New Era Workers

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The Student Assembly is stepping up the pressure on the factory which makes caps for the Cornell baseball team, hoping to influence a strike settlement at its plant near Buffalo, N.Y.

Workers at the New Era plant in Derby, N.Y. have been demanding higher wages, better working conditions and union recognition for the past eight months.

“I’m really excited that the Student Assembly (S.A.) is stepping up to the plate, and I hope the Administration follows,” said Marie Joseph ’03, treasurer of Cornell Students Against Sweatshops (CSAS).

Last night, the S.A. approved a resolution that will send letters “expressing disapproval of substandard labor conditions at New Era” to the leaders in professional baseball, hockey, basketball, football, and golf. The resolution also asks for Cornell President Hunter R. Rawlings III to “take action to correct problems with New Era.”

“Because Gary Bettman ’74 [commissioner of the National Hockey League] is an ILR [School of Industrial and Labor Relations] grad, it could add special weight to this resolution,” said Michael Moschella ’02, ILR representative on the S.A. who sponsored the resolution.

While the resolution was passed overwhelmingly, two S.A. members voiced their personal opposition.

“I don’t think it’s our place to be interfering with the affairs of a private company,” said Scott Toussaint ’05, freshman at-large representative.

Cornell is a member of the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a group of more than 90 colleges and universities that have agreed not to use sweatshop labor.

In a report on the Derby plant, the WRC found “substantial and credible evidence” that workers experienced uncommonly high number of on-the-job injuries, including needle punctures and repetitive stress injuries.

According to the report, one-fifth of all New Era workers have received surgery or are in need of it because of these work-related injuries.

The WRC has not made a final recommendation on whether the Derby plant violates the organization’s standards.

Robert Reese, director of budget, human resources and product licensing for Cornell approved of the S.A.’s action.

“I’m glad that the student body is engaged in something like this,” Reese said. “We are very close to making some sort of decision. We have not been sleeping at the switch on this one.”

Other schools such as Duke University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, George Washington University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, have decided to stop using New Era altogether.

CSAS, however, has not asked the University to cease its partnership with the company.

“We wouldn’t urge the University to ‘cut and run’,” said Andres Blanco ’03, CSAS president. “I want to say that we have some influence, but in reality we don’t have that much power with a big corporation.”

According to Reese, the University does not want to lose its ability to negotiate with New Era. Cornell, a minor purchaser of baseball caps, is interested in seeing how other universities might act in cooperation to deal collectively with New Era.

“Bottom line, we desire to run a principled program,” Reese said.

In other business, the S.A. passed a resolution regarding the use of reusable mugs in some Cornell Dining facilities.

Any reusable coffee mug may now be filled with the content of a large coffee for the price of a small one, and students presenting reusable mugs for large specialty drinks will only pay the price of a small drink.

“The goal is to reduce waste,” said Toussaint, a sponsor of the resolution.

Cornell Dining used one million hard-to-recycle paper cups for hot beverages in 2001.

Currently, a 25 cent discount is available for students with reusable mugs. This discount had little effect at reducing waste, according to the resolution.

The measure will be in effect at the Caf