Back for more, SCALE pushes USC on labor rights

Balancing the scales · Elisabeth Gustafson and Elias Kohn listen intently during a meeting of the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation. -Alejandra Vargas-Johnson | Daily Trojan

Balancing the scales · Elisabeth Gustafson and Elias Kohn listen intently during a meeting of the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation. -Alejandra Vargas-Johnson | Daily Trojan

The Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation plans to meet with USC officials next week to encourage the school to join an independent labor rights monitoring organization, in an effort to ensure the university works with socially responsible companies.

SCALE has previously tried to stop USC from working with Russell Athletic, a supplier of clothing at the Pertusati Bookstore. SCALE claims the company exploited about 1,800 workers who were fired from a factory in Honduras last year.

The coalition says Russell Athletic closed down the factory and blacklisted its workers to prevent them from informing others about the work conditions. It was an effort to prevent unionization, according to Elias Kohn, a member of SCALE and a sophomore majoring in sociology.

“Last year, there was a lot of debate about whether the factory closed down for economic reasons or as a policy to discourage unionization,” Kohn said. “Now it’s fairly undebated that discouraging unionization played at least a significant role in Russell’s action.”

Representatives of Russell Athletic have denied the allegations. The company says it closed the factory mainly for business reasons and because of the economic downturn.

SCALE now says it will settle for a goal the group has long held: getting the school to join the Worker Rights Consortium, a global watchdog for labor rights that ensures companies like Russell Athletic have clean records.

USC is already a member of the Fair Labor Association, an organization of universities, colleges and companies that works to improve working conditions in factories around the world. The FLA is currently conducting its own evaluation of Russell Athletic’s labor practices.

“What the FLA offers is, it does bring all the stakeholders to the table,” said Matt Curran, director of licensing and social responsibility at USC. “The FLA is doing a pretty thorough investigation of what went on in Honduras with the Russell factory closure.”

The FLA’s report was originally expected to be published Thursday, but the labor association has given the company another 45 days, in addition to the 90 days it already received, to explain and provide evidence about the causes for the layoffs and the factory’s closure.

“They’re still in the process of negotiation,” Curran said. “It sounds like positive progress is being made and they don’t want to interrupt that process.”

SCALE, however, believes the FLA’s delay is because the organization’s policies are not as the WRC’s. Its sponsors might dictate what to pursue, which could lead to some issues being overlooked, Kohn said.

“[FLA is] not adequate because it’s self-policed,” Kohn said. “Corporations play a role in some of their procedures … WRC gets money from grants and clothing sales.”

The report’s postponement means November’s meeting between SCALE and the administration will include a discussion about the WRC open to USC, with members from the coalition hoping to push the university about joining WRC.

“The fact that they put them off by 45 days will probably be discussed,” Kohn said. “I just don’t see WRC putting people on multiple remediation plans.”

Although the administration wants to have a constructive dialogue with SCALE, Curran said it would not decide until the FLA report is published.

“I think all options are still on the table,” he said. “It really depends on the results of this investigation.”

In the past, SCALE has protested by locking themselves in the president’s office or taking other extreme measures. But this year, the group intents to take a more collaborative approach.

“[We want to] find an issue that we can work together on. We hope we have the same long-term goals to help the workers,” Kohn said.

But other members of the coalition say those past events helped raise awareness about SCALE and encouraged the university to meet with the group.

“Because of those protests we have a certain amount of name recognition and influence around campus,” said Elisabeth Gustafson, a junior majoring in history. “Students on campus trust that we’re going to follow up with action.”

Kohn added that if the FLA report comes out without any blaming Russell Athletic, they would consider alternative actions.

“If we can’t find common ground or the WRC is rejected, our next move is a boycott of the bookstore,” he said. “That won’t really happen because [the administration has] been really vocal about working together, as we have been.”

13 replies
  1. Elisabeth Gustafson
    Elisabeth Gustafson says:

    Vic, before you protest us we’d love to have a conversation about the issues you bring up. SCALE may be a progressive organization, but we do not support all leftist movements in Latin America. We definitely do not support any group that would kill to make their point about workers’ rights. What happened to your uncle is horrible and we would never want that to happen. We support the Workers Rights Consortium, which has a governing board of university administrators, usas reps, labor rights experts, members of local NGOs that advocate for workers rights. It is not a case of American students intervening in a foreign country. It is a case of students and local activists working together to try to improve the lives of workers. The reason why we feel the need to address an issue that does not take place in our country is that it is the institutions with money and power – such as USC – can use that power to influence companies and effect change. But just so you know, we also try to improve things locally. We are involved in campaigns for fair contracts for USC employees and currently working to increase benefits for the janitorial staff. We believe that we can work for good both locally and internationally – without violence.

  2. Vic Fernandez
    Vic Fernandez says:

    When is your next meeting so I can come and protest you guys? I will bring my Honduran family and friends along with pictures of my Uncle from the local newspaper so you can see what you have caused by your meddling in our country.

  3. Max
    Max says:

    What’s with the name-calling? First of all, SCALE wants nothing to do with Communism and has no association, ideological or otherwise, with Communism.

    Wouldn’t it be just as easy for me to call those who oppose international standards of labor rights pro-slavery fascists? But that completely misses the point and has nothing to do with the situation at hand.

    The business motive for moving factory production to poorer countries is that the currency and cost of living is much lower. US companies can save money by moving production overseas and paying a living wage that is cheaper. But it becomes a slippery slope once companies start paying foreign workers a wage that supports a lower standard of living than workers in the US would have.

    People in support of worker’s rights abroad think that workers, no matter where they live, have a right to a minimum standard of living which is not always respected.

    btw, I think SCALE would welcome an anti-SCALE group, it would be great for publicity and probably do wonders for recruitment.

  4. Vic Fernandez
    Vic Fernandez says:

    My family is from Honduras. You wacky kids know nothing of the struggle of my people against communist guerrillas such as the PRTCH and FMLH who kill innocent people in the name of so called workers rights. My uncle owned a small plastics company near the boarder with Nicaragua. He was hung from a telephone pole by the PRTCH bastards who received support from the drug cartels and your friends in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba. I can assure you my uncle was a fair man who allowed his workers to eat their lunch for more than 15 minutes. Before he was killed, the so called “Union People” came with false claims of the workers being mistreated. When he refused their demands for bribes, he was killed and the factory was closed. Now, no one has a job. We have misguided kids like you to thank for this as you encourage such behavior on the part of these terrorists. Leave my country alone! You have many problems in this country you should fix (poverty, racisim, bigotry, BCS etc…) first.

  5. Elias Kohn
    Elias Kohn says:

    Steve M I was hoping you could explain something to me since I must be missing it. WHy did two female workers from Honduras come to USC in the Spring thanking the Universities and student groups that have helped them in an attempt to re-open the factory and gain protecting from the death threats from Russell?
    As they explained a situation you seem to be aware of–mainly their jobs being taken due to their protests over 16 hour work days with a 15 minute lunch break and 1 minute bathroom break (not quite a smoke break at a t-shirt factory Dean) as well as the health situations there friends and co-workers were suffering from they seemed pretty clear that groups like USAS who sponsored their tour and groups such as SCALE are on their side and they asked us to keep working on these measures.

    But then again Steve maybe you spoke with some workers from Honduras and they told you differently? That would be hard to believe though since the factory was shut down before any UNiversities started boycotting Russell. And since they are boycotting with the campaign of forcing Russell to re-open (the demand of the workers at JDH) I think you might have a tough time finding any sense behind your claims and rant.

    I wont be posting anything else because all of you seem wacked out and so misinformed on this issue I dont really see any logical discussion following other than your rants about Liz and the housekeeper she doesn’t have (and she actually is not in a sorority either just one more check of things your wrong on) and the che poster that, by the way, I dont have.

  6. Dean Haenie
    Dean Haenie says:

    We need to setup an anti-SCALE group to stop these nuts from straving any more kids in the third world. Has everyone forgotten about the students who were murdered by the Iranian goverment in July? Where is protest for our fellow students killed by their own goverment. That seems to be far more important issue than some guy who didn’t get a smoke break at the t-shirt factory.

  7. Alexander Welling
    Alexander Welling says:

    hahahaha I’m not even going to address the absurdity of that last post. Steve M, it’s clear you’re just grasping at straws by making claims that have no basis in fact and resorting to making fun of Elias’s clothing (not sure what the relevance is of that line). If you’re going to make a fool of yourself like this I would think you would want to at least maintain some shred of credibility by writing with correct grammar and spelling. Next time post with your real full name so you can actually take responsibility for your laughable statements.

  8. Teddy Leland
    Teddy Leland says:

    Look, everyone at the meeting has now posted comments attacking Mr. Starr’s comments. May I suggest a phone booth for your next meeting. Elias can bring his Che poster to make the meeting look more important.

  9. Steve M
    Steve M says:

    I’m with Thite. You guys are commie pinkos. You can tell the real communists by their denials. Elais, it’s obvious by your lumberjack look you are not the one with the guatemalan housekeeper. I’m sure your friend wears make-up back at the sorority.

    Let’s talk about what you fools have apparently done. How many Honduran’s lost their job by your actions. How many children are going hungry because their parent’s didn’t bring home a check from the Russell factory. May I suggest you meet some Hunduran and find out what they want. They are a proud hardworking people who have little interest in your World Socialism Agenda. Unlike some of surrounding leftist controlled countries, Honduras has a growing ecomony.

    The problem with this article is not the photograph, it’s you.

  10. Max
    Max says:

    Commie pinkos, haven’t heard that one in a while.

    This isn’t just a leftist campus movement. On May 13th of this year, 65 congressmen sent a letter to the CEO of the Russell Corporation expressing their “grave concern about severe violations of internationally recognized labor rights.”

    I would also like to voice a my grievance at the picture chosen for this article. Elisabeth has her eyes closed and Elias’ face is hardly visible. If the DT is going to run an article about an issue affecting the campus and feature two students who are important to a movement concerning that issue, wouldn’t it make sense to actually show who they are? No qualms with the photographer, I’m sure he/she took other pictures that were much more adequate for printing than this one.

  11. Leftist propagandist
    Leftist propagandist says:

    Thite D. Starr i completely agree with you. We need to put a stop to these leftist USC students who are parading around in black bandanas smashing store windows around campus. I hope someone can soon determine their hidden motive for campaigning for fair treatment of exploited workers. I will do my best to obtain photos of both these characters’ faces when they are secretly wearing their designer clothing in san morino and overworking their guatemalan housekeeper you seem to care about. We have to halt these commie pinko students in their tracks before they garner so much support for their cause that fair treatment of workers in foreign countries becomes ensured everywhere.

  12. Elias Kohn
    Elias Kohn says:

    Hey Thite great comment–only because everything you said is wrong I thought Id start off telling you I would gladly show my face they chose the picture, and you are more than welcome to see my face anytime you wanna say anything about my friends and their nonexistent guatemalan housekeeper

    In fact every UC school is signed onto the measures we discussed in the article, as are 186 Universities in the US. A little more than just berkeley huh? With regards to Russell 98 Universities have cut their contract. But then again I guess that is all just leftist propaganda anyways

    if you knew even a handful of the details about this you would be shocked at how stupid you sound

  13. Thite D. Starr
    Thite D. Starr says:

    It is amazing that USC has a few of the last remaining commie pinko students outside of Berkeley. Notice neither allows their face to be fully shown in the photo. I am suprised they don’t have black bandanas to cover their faces so they can’t be identified for breaking the Starbucks windows on their way to meeting. Yeah, “listen intently” to the leftist propaganda. I have five bucks that says he has a Che poster over his bed in dorms and she secretly wears designer clothing and leather shoes when she goes home to San Marino to pick-up her laundry that the guatemalan housekeeper has carefully cleaned while working 12 hours days for cash under the table. Exploitation my ass!

Comments are closed.