Timeline of Labor Struggles at UNC

1998- United Students against Sweatshops forms. International nonprofit of student activists, now in 2008 has over 250 chapters across the U.S. and Canada.

April 1999- UNC-CH students affiliated with United Students against Sweatshops hold four-day sit-in in interim Chancellor Bill McCoy’s South Building office to demand labor codes of conduct, that licensees disclose the locations of their factories, and for UNC-CH to affiliate with the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent labor monitoring organization. They win all of their demands.

2000- UNC-CH affiliates with the WRC and also, while student activists were away during the summer, with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), which has corporations who are violators of labor rights on its board of directors. The FLA has consistently failed to stand up for the rights of the workers whose rights are being violated by its member corporations.

A Chronology of Failure (From flawatch.org, a project of United Students against Sweatshops, with additional details added by UNC-CH SAW/SAS member Salma Mirza)

From its inception to the present day, the FLA has failed to produce effective or timely responses to egregious violations of worker rights. Time and again, the FLA has proven itself unable to address worker complaints and time and again taken the side of multinational corporations against workers.

Have you heard about some of those groundbreaking victories like Kukdong, BJ&B, and Dae Joo Leports, where university codes of conduct have really made a difference? If it were up to the FLA and its members, we wouldn’t have any of them! Check out the timeline below for some key moments in the FLA’s history of failing workers.

January 2001: Workers at the Kukdong (Mexmode) factory in Mexico are beaten by riot police for demanding their rights. Nike responds by citing corporate audit report indicating that Kukdong is a model factory.

January 2002: UNC-CH cuts its contract with New Era Cap for their abuses at their Derby, NY factory, in which workers were forced to go on a 11-month strike with the CWA union in response to poverty wages, three times the national average of industrial accidents, poor health and safety standards, and union-busting. New Era hides behind the FLA to state they are a model “American” company.

March 2003: FLA touts their participation in the victory at the BJ&B factory where workers’ union is recognized and wins wage increases after a long struggle. Yet when BJ&B workers visited college campuses in 1998, Nike denied that violations were occurring, essentially preventing any improvements from being made for 5 years!

March 2003: Primo factory in El Salvador illegally blacklists union members, making it impossible for these workers to find employment. FLA member Lands’ End denies that their factory is engaged in blacklisting, despite overwhelming evidence, citing the FLA as their cover.

December 2003: Hundreds of workers at PT Victoria factory in Indonesia lose jobs after working several 24-hour shifts to finish orders for FLA member Eddie Bauer. Workers are owed over $1 million. Instead of taking action to fix the violations, FLA accredits Eddie Bauer’s labor compliance program in May 2005.

July 2004: 1,800 workers lose jobs when Gildan Activewear closes their factory in Honduras to escape unionization efforts by workers. FLA does not require Gildan to reopen the factory or provide employment to the jobless workers.

July 2004: FLA remains silent as FLA members Jansport and Adidas allow PT Dae Joo Leports factory to leave Indonesia in order to avoid providing health care benefits to workers and dealing with a union.

April 2005: FLA refuses to take action as its members Puma and Nike cut and run from Lian Thai factory in Thailand, despite the factory having had made incredible progress on labor rights issues. This model factory is currently in danger of closing for lack of orders.

May 2005: FLA accredits Eddie Bauer, despite the company having taken absolutely no action on the PT Victoria violations (see December, 2003).

August 2005: FLA remains silent as member companies Reebok and Top of the World cut and run from Hana factory in Cambodia, in the middle of a WRC investigation.

Fall 2005: The DSP is presented to the UNC administration as an effective policy tool to stop cutting-and-running and support the human rights of garment workers in their supply chain. Student Action with Workers requests meetings with Chancellor Moeser to discuss the issues, and is denied direct access. Members of SAW present the DSP proposal to the Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee.

February 2006: Remember the BJ&B factory where workers won an unprecedented victory with the support of USAS in 2003? A BJ&B worker visits college campuses and explains that the factory is in danger of closing because FLA companies Nike and Reebok have been seriously reducing their orders. The FLA has done nothing to stop this, despite the apparent pride they took in seeing the factory drastically improve conditions in 2003.

May 2007: Members of the UNC-CH Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee are split on supporting the DSP, which they were charged to further investigate at the beginning of the year in 2006. The split is not surprising, considering every meeting that year (2006-2007) invited the CEO of a major corporation and/or a representative from the FLA, except for the final meeting in which students presented their first-hand research of labor abuses in the Dominican Republic, India, and Kenya (Melanie Stratton, Mike Hachey, Salma Mirza). The pro-DSP statements of members of the committee, including students, faculty, and administrators, was not included in the final LLCAC report submitted in May.

Spring 2007- Workers at a New Era factory in Mobile, Alabama, approach the Teamsters union requesting to form a union because they had been subjected to racism, sexual harassment, arbitrary and humiliating disciplinary practices, and poverty wages. New Era begins a vicious anti-union campaign during which 20 pro-union workers were fired for exercising their right to organize. Tim Freer, the Global VP of Human Resources at New Era, who sits on the boar dof directors of the FLA, personally flew down to Mobile, Alabama to hold anti-union captive audience meetings, during which workers were told they would lose their food stamps if they joined the union. Workers responded that they wouldn’t need to be on food stamps if New Era paid them enough money. Despite the anti-union campaign, workers voted in the Teamsters union. Management responded with punitive disciplinary practices and laying off more workers for a few weeks during the down season in the fall, which is illegal according to U.S. labor law.

Summer 2007: Felicia Walker, a fired union organizer and worker at New Era and Jim Gookins, organizer with the Teamsters, file official documents requesting the Fair Labor Association and WRC to investigate the labor abuses. Workers also file complaints with the OECC and NLRB.

August 2007: Chancellor Moeser officially rejects the DSP, and pulls UNC out of the DSP working group (as an observer).

November 2007: Members of SAW deliver a letter to Moeser protesting his decision to reject the DSP. He refuses to respond to any of their specific concerns, including a request asking what questions Chancellor Moeser believed were unanswered about the DSP, and stated his decision was final. The next day, Chancellor Moeser finally appointed members of the Licensing Labor Code Advisory committee, which did not meet until December, after labor abuses had already been documented in the supply chain of a major UNC licensee, Russell, and labor allegations at the New Era Cap factory in Alabama were ongoing.

Fall 2007: New Era refuses to allow the WRC on-site access. The FLA (who, again, has Tim Freer on its board of directors, who personally conducted the anti-union campaign) refuses to issue a third-party investigation.

Fall 2007: The WRC issues a report about labor abuses in the supply chain of Russell Athletics, a UNC licensee, regarding a factory in Honduras. Russell refuses to cooperate with the WRC. They refuse to cooperate until the FLA corroborated the labor violation findings of the WRC, which thankfully, at least in this case, they did.

January 2008: 15 students from major universities, including a student from UNC-CH, go to Mobile, Alabama to speak with current and fired workers about the ongoing abuses. As a result of their findings, many universities send warning letters to New Era and the University of Wisconsin-Madison cuts its contract with New Era since they still refused to cooperate with the WRC.

January 2008: The UNC-CH Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee unanimously recommends to Chancellor Moeser that he send a letter requiring New Era to cooperate with the WRC or that would constitute breach of contract.

February 2008: With no explanation to the LLCAC, Chancellor Moeser does not send the requested letter. Instead, he send a letter requesting New Era cooperate with an FLA-accredited monitor.

February 2008: Due to the pressure of universities, New Era Cap reaches a collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters union. Unfortunately, this entire case set yet another precedent in which brands get away with not cooperating with the WRC investigation, much less the remediation process, and UNC-CH upheld this dangerous precedent.

April 2008: After years requesting meetings with Chancellor Moeser, after years of presenting research and gathering support from students, faculty, and staff, members of SAW and the Carolina Sweatfree Coalition begin daily letter deliveries. They received no response until April 10, 2008, the day after dozens of students at another UNC system school, Appalachian State University, began a peaceful occupation of their Chancellor’s office demanding he adopt the DSP after they were similarly ignored for two years. The April 10th letter to Chancellor Moeser included a statement from the ASU students regarding their act of civil disobedience. That Friday, Chancellor Moeser finally agreed to “meet” with students in a public debate the following week.

April 11, 2008: Nine students at ASU are arrested for their sit-in for the DSP for criminal trespassing.

April 15, 2008: Jorge Perez Lopez, the Executive Director of the FLA, visits the last meeting of the Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee. Students, workers, and community members gather to protest his visit. Perez Lopez admits in the meeting that FLA programs accredit licensees who regularly violate UNC labor codes of conduct and that FLA programs have made no demonstrable progress towards respecting workers human rights.

April 16, 2008: The day of the deadline to adopt the DSP, after three years of ignoring students, faculty, and staff, Chancellor Moeser finally agrees to a meeting. At the meeting, he stated several mischaracterizations about the DSP. He stated that the DSP requires collective bargaining. It does not. It requires freedom of association for a certain percentage of factories. He stated that the 42 other universities, like Duke, who have adopted the DSP, have not actually implemented the DSP as only a certain percentage of the licensees’ factories are DSP factories. That is exactly what the DSP policy document lays out. Perhaps if Chancellor Moeser had read the policy document in the three years since the proposal was sent, we would not have had such an unproductive meeting.

April 17, 2008: After it became clear that the UNC administration was unwilling to engage in honest and respectful discourse about the human rights concerns of students, faculty, and staff, after three years during which workers have been losing their lives and livelihoods for manufacturing UNC licensed apparel and daring to stand up for their rights, 10 students began a nonviolent occupation of the lobby of South Building, 10 feet away from Chancellor James Moeser’s office. Though he cannot see the workers who suffer to make our Carolina apparel, he will see us every day until he adopts the DSP.

April 18, 2008: Chancellor Moeser is sent off to his weekend with 50 people chanting “Chancellor Moeser, you will know, union busting’s got to go! UNC Sweatfree, adopt the DSP!” He mockingly joins the protesters, dancing and clapping, then leaves for the weekend, leaving instructions to the UNC police (who have been watching students 24/7 since Thursday’s start of the sit-in) that no one is allowed to visit, enter, or drop of food during the weekend, telling his advisors not to worry, that the students will get tired and go home.

April 20, 2008: Fourth day of the sit-in, the food supplies are running out (there is no fridge, obviously, it’s very warm and the fluorescent lighting doesn’t turn off)/ spoiling. NAACP lawyer Al McSurely attempts to bring students sitting in a meal, but UNC police say that they are not allowed to let anyone from the outside bring food to the students. (For more updates on the sit-in timeline, see the homepage)

UNC labor history (currently on display in South Building, we did some redecorating):

HOPE Coalition, support the human rights of NC public employees
UE Local 150
UNC Employee Forum
SEANC25
Justice at Smithfield, UFCW

For decades, workers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have campaigned for gender and racial equality, dignity, and economic justice. This timeline is a summary of the history that does not appear in the official narratives about the university.
Early Organizing (1930-1947)
The Lenoir Strikes (1969)
The Housekeepers’ Struggle (1980-1997)
The Struggle Continues (1999-Today)

Early Organizing (1930-1947)

1930 – Janitor’s Association Holds First Meeting
Sparked by the threat of a 10% pay cut, the Janitor’s Association held its first meeting on April 14, 1930. The group was founded by four African-American housekeepers. Early victories included one week of paid vacation for janitors and the installation of restrooms with showers. At this time, workers were paid an hourly wage of 25 cents.

1932 – Janitor’s Association Supports the Student Loan Fund
In 1932, janitors’ wages were cut because of the financial difficulties suffered by the University during the Great Depression. To help students remain in school, the University established a loan fund for students. Despite their own financial hardship, the Janitor’s Association voted to donate to the student loan fund.

1940 – Janitor’s Association Publishes Newsletter
In April of 1940, the Janitor’s Association published the first edition of its newsletter, The Voice of the Janitor’s Association. The editorial staff, as listed on the front cover, included Eugene White, James Trioe, Willie Hargraves, Clyde Stevenson, and William Coker.

1942 – First Union Organized on Campus
In 1942, the Janitor’s Association reorganized into the Local 403 of the State, County, and Municipal Workers of America, affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Early minutes from the union’s meetings, recorded on July 2, 1942, show that the primary concerns of workers were job security, advancement, working conditions, and, “the most important matter,” pay. The organization existed on campus until 1947.

1947 – CIO Local 403 Petitions for Better Pay
In 1947, the state legislature passed a 20% pay increase for employees. The University responded by eliminating a war time pay bonus. In protest, workers in the CIO Local 403 gathered signatures and circulated flyers among students stating “We ask the students who do not want to see the University workers live in the very conditions condemned in the classrooms to sign these petitions.”

The Lenoir Strikes (1969)

1969 – Cafeteria Workers Strike
In February of 1969, the cafeteria workers went on a month long strike lead by Mary Smith and Elizabeth Brooks.

1969 – Students and Faculty Rally to Support Strikers
Throughout the strike, many students, lead by the Black Student Movement (BSM) and the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC), picketed alongside workers and boycotted the dining halls in solidarity. Faculty picketed as well, carrying signs that said “Faculty Supports Lenoir Workers.”

1969 – Workers and Students Establish Alternative Cafeteria
As the strike continued, workers and students set up a “food stand” in Manning Hall to serve as an alternative cafeteria. This allowed workers to support themselves while on strike, and also gave students who were boycotting the cafeteria a place to eat. Workers earned more by collectively operating their own cafeteria than they had earned working for the University.

1969 – First Cafeteria Worker Strike Resolved
After over a month of the strike, the workers won a pay increase for over 5,000 state employees. In addition, many other demands were met and for the first time workers received their paychecks in envelopes, were given name tags and job classifications and were addressed by managers by their full names.

1969 – Second Cafeteria Worker Strike
After the first cafeteria strike, the University outsourced the dining services to the SAGA corporation. Although they promised that SAGA would uphold the terms agreed to after the strike, they soon went back on this promise and fired twelve union activists. To maintain the advances they had won, the workers went on strike for a second time in November.

1969 – Police Charge Picket Lines, Arrest 9 Students and Union Members
On December 4, 1969, the police attacked a group of demonstrators from the Black Student Movement who allegedly refused to disperse. Nine people were arrested, including two union organizers. Charges included failure to disperse and disorderly conduct.

1969 – Second Cafeteria Strike Resolved
After ten days of the second strike, students from Black Student Movement chapters across the state planned to convene in Chapel Hill for “Black Monday,” a rally in support of the strikers. When management learned of the students’ plans, they hurriedly resolved the strike and gave in to all of the demands of the workers, who were then represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

The Housekeepers’ Struggle (1980-1997)

1980 – Gene Alston Fired
In 1980, as housekeepers continued organizing, a well known organizer and housekeeper, Gene Alston, was fired.

1980 – Housekeepers Organize Walk-Out
On March 27, 1980, Housekeepers presented the Physical Plant Director, Claude Swecker with a list of nine demands. Their demands included: no more “warning letters” against employees who were late to work because of bad weather, that Gene Alston be given his job back, that managers take their word on sick days without asking embarrassing personal questions, that housekeeping workers have a written job description that supervisors must respect, that they be allowed to use their vacation at any time of the year, that Manzie Smith and John Thompson (who were widely known to sexually harass female employees) be removed from supervisor positions, and that regular meetings be established on work time for all housekeepers.

1982 – Housekeepers Petition for Higher Pay
November of 1983, housekeepers began to circulate a petition calling for higher wages. This organizing eventually led to the formation of the Housekeepers’ Association.

1991 – Housekeepers’ Association Forms
In January of 1991, the Housekeepers’ Association (HKA) was formed. That same year the HKA filed a lawsuit against the University demanding better pay and working conditions. The association led actions throughout the 90s in support of respect on the job and a living wage for housekeepers.

1996 – Housekeepers Win Historic Lawsuit Against University
In December of 1996, HKA won a historic legal victory against the University. According to the NAACP News, Chancellor Michael Hooker and housekeepers agreed on a settlement, “worth more than $1 million, which included pay raises, back pay, recognition of the HKA as the representative of the housekeepers… and substantial backing for career training, child and elder care, a public health study, and the establishment of a historical commission.”

1997 – Housekeepers Protest University’s Failure to Uphold Settlement
In 1997, housekeepers held a protest to denounce the Chancellor’s and the University’s failure to fulfill their agreements as per the settlement. Housekeepers held a sign giving Chancellor Hooker an ‘F’ on all counts of the settlement except the wage issue – monthly meetings, new careers training, a commission to honor African Americans, and a commission to improve housekeeper’s health.

The Struggle Continues (1999-Today)

1999 – United Students Against Sweatshops Sit-in
In April of 1999, UNC students affiliated with the national organization United Students Against Sweatshops staged a 72 hour sit-in in South Building. They pressured the University into enacting a code of conduct governing conditions in factories of licensees producing UNC apparel. The codes ensured adequate health and safety conditions, the right to organize and freedom from discrimination. UNC became a member of both the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) to monitor factories to ensure compliance with the codes.

2000 – UE Local 150 Organized on Campus
In 2000, the Housekeepers’ Association reorganized as United Electrical Local 150 North Carolina Public Service Workers Union. Many housekeepers, groundskeepers, and hospital workers are currently members.

2003 – Bill Schuler Fired
Bill Schuler, a long time organizer and outspoken workers’ rights advocate, was fired from his job as a UNC housekeeper after speaking out about unsafe chemicals workers were forced to use. Housekeepers were not provided with proper safety equipment, and as a result many suffered nosebleeds and headaches from exposure to cleaning chemicals.

2004 – Lezlie Sumpter Fired
Lezlie Sumpter, an ARAMARK employee at Lenoir Dining Hall was fired after speaking out publicly about sexual harassment on the job perpetrated by male supervisors. No action was taken against the managers. In response Boiling Point magazine published a searing expose on the issue and Student Action with Workers organized mass rallies in support of Lezlie’s reinstatement.

2005 – Organizing Drive Begins in UNC Dining Halls
In January of 2005, ARAMARK employees in UNC’s dining halls began an organizing drive with the Service Employees International Union. Students supported the effort by leafleting in the cafeterias and interpreting for Spanish-speaking workers at union meetings. In response, ARAMARK kicked student activists out of the cafeterias and sent anti-union letters to all of their employees. The letters stated that unions only wanted to collect dues from workers and that any workers who went on strike would be replaced.

2005 – Vel Dowdy, Union Supporter, Arrested
In 2005, during the height of the SEIU organizing drive, Vel Dowdy, a vocal pro-union organizer was arrested and suspended by ARAMARK. Vel Dowdy had worked in Lenoir for six years, and was well known by students to whom she gave out free lunches. After she became active with the union, ARAMARK asked the police to investigate claims that she had let students into the cafeteria without paying. Over the allegation that a handful of students had been allowed to eat without paying, Vel was taken out of the cafeteria in handcuffs and charged with felony embezzlement.[1] Student Action with Workers organized a protest of over 300 workers and students who marched from the pit, through Lenoir, and into South Building.

2005 – Workers Crash Chancellor Moeser’s Open House
After months of inaction from the University, over a dozen ARAMARK employees, including Vel Dowdy and Leslie Sumpter attended an open house held by Chancellor Moeser on April 26. They voiced their grievances, including charges of sexually harassment, anti-union intimidation, and the wrongful disciplining and firing of workers. In addition, they called for a card check neutrality process for unionization. Moeser was clearly caught off guard and attempted to shift attention off of himself and onto ARAMARK.

2005 – Student Action with Workers Publishes Worker Power
In October of 2005, Student Action with Workers began publishing a jointly written worker and student newsletter to address campus labor issues. The Newsletter is currently published every other week, in English and Spanish in print and online at http://www.uncsolidarity.org.

2005 – UE150 Holds State-Wide Hearing on Workers’ Rights
In November of 2005, the International Workers Justice Campaign (IWJC) of UE150 held a statewide hearing regarding working conditions for NC state employees and the legality of General Statute 95-98, which prohibits collective bargaining by state employees. Lawyers from around the world were in attendance as part of an investigation by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Workers came from across the state to testify about unjust treatment including racial and sexual discrimination, unfair grievance procedures, and forced overtime.

December 2006- 14 dental technicians were laid off and their jobs were outsourced. Two of the laid-off employees are currently suing UNC for age discrimination and the fact that their layoffs did not save the university any money.

August 2007- The University Gazette censors an article written by the Employee Forum about collective bargaining as a human rights issue. Chancellor Moeser upholds this decision.

Fall 2007- In response to protests from students, faculty, and staff and members of Student Action with Workers, UNC System President Erskine Bowles issues a statement on the censorship issue, stating he does not condone censorship of any kind and supports free and open dialogue on any issue, including collective bargaining rights.

Fall 2007- UNC housekeepers are told they will lose their overtime hours during the summer, or threatened that they will lose their jobs if they do not accept this decision. In response, housekeepers who are members of UE Local 150 organize a petition drive that they presented to the Ombudsman. They have not yet received a response from upper level Human Resource management at the University.

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