Michigan students protest sweat shops

(U-WIRE) ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Discussions continued Thursday between University of Michigan administrators and student activists who have occupied President Lee Bollinger’s office in the Fleming Administration Building since Wednesday morning.

Members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality said they will not leave the office until administrators meet their demands to develop a strong set of labor standards for the collegiate apparel industry.

The students, camped on the second floor, spent much of Thursday blocking doorways, keeping administrators and other workers out of Bollinger’s office.

SOLE’s bargaining team met with Bollinger, university General Counsel Marvin Krislov and Provost Nancy Cantor Thursday but did not come to an agreement, senior Trevor Gardner said.

SOLE members said they are upset with parts of the school code of conduct for licensed manufacturers that Bollinger presented at Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting.

“The policy statement the university released at the regents’ meeting does not represent an agreement between the students and President Bollinger,” said sophomore SOLE member Peter Romer-Friedman.

“We’re upset, however, we know that this code is the strongest in the nation and its existence is due solely to the efforts of U of M students,” Gardner said.

Members who participated in the sit-in said they will remain in the president’s office overnight. SOLE has called on the school for full public disclosure of factory locations and ownership and the living wage.

The University agreed to full public disclosure in discussions with SOLE last week. The living wage remains the major point of contention in the Michigan’s discussions with SOLE.

The school code has stronger guidelines than those proposed for the Collegiate Licensing Company code. The CLC is the agent that handles contracts between licensed manufacturers and 161 schools nationwide, including Michigan.

While SOLE members plan to continue to occupy Bollinger’s office, labor organizations and sweatshop activists around the nation are supporting the students’ sit-in protest.

“They are confronting the most powerful university on this issue,” Coughlin said.

Charles Kurnaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, and the NLC exposed sweatshop labor practices in factories producing a line of products for television talk show host Kathy Lee Gifford.

“The nation is looking to these students,” Kurnaghan said.

-by Michael Grass and Jaimie Winkler, Michigan Daily

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