Student Action with Workers attended the Alumni Association events and pregame tailgate this past Saturday. We spoke to concerned parents and alumni about UNC’s failure to require our apparel brands like VF Corporation to join the Bangladesh Safety Accord. Over 1200 Bangladesh garment workers died in unsafe factories in 2013, and just this summer a VF factory caught fire and 50 workers were injured. The Bangladesh Safety Accord is the only legally binding agreement that mandates Bangladeshi factories be repaired and brought to proper safety standards. SAW was encouraged by the support of alumni, parents, and students attending the event. The crowd took 150 of our informational pamphlets, and our banner demanding UNC cut ties with VF hung for over an hour on the belltower. We are hopeful UNC will do the right thing in the coming year and tell VF Corp to join the Accord.
Dear Chancellor Folt and President Ross,
We have recently received concerning information that we must share with you. VF Corporation’s failure to take responsibility for worker’s safety in its Bangladeshi garment factories and UNC’s failure to hold them accountable has led to another factory disaster. UNC cannot afford to wait to rethink its position regarding UNC’s continued relationship with VF Corporation.
On June 20th Medlar Apparels, a factory that produces apparel for VF Corporation, caught fire due to a faulty electrical system. 50 factory workers were injured because of improper fire exits and some continue to be hospitalized. This disaster could have been prevented. Representatives from United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), including UNC student Naomi Carbrey, met with Medlar workers when they traveled to Bangladesh in August 2013. The workers informed USAS that the Medlar factory lacked proper fire exits and had unsafe stairwells. Although VF representatives had visited the factory, there had been no action taken to remediate the dangerous situation. Medlar workers were terrified a fire would occur in the unsafe factory, and because of VF’s inaction their fears have become reality.
As you are aware, this is not the first time there has been a disaster in a factory producing apparel for VF Corporation. In 2010, 29 workers were killed in a fire at That’s it Sportswear factory in Bangladesh and in 2012, Eurotex, another VF factory, had a major fire. VF had repeatedly inspected the factories and had failed to address the safety hazards. VF Corporation has demonstrated a complete disregard for the safety of its workers and UNC must sever its relationship with VF immediately.
Since the USAS delegation to Bangladesh, students have repeatedly warned UNC that VF Corporation would continue to avoid its responsibilities and put workers lives in danger. In April Bangladeshi garment worker leaders Aleya Akter and Aklima Khanam traveled to UNC to speak with Chancellor Folt and directly asked her to dissolve ties with VF Corporation. While at least 13 colleges and universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison and New York University, have decided to cut VF’s contract, UNC has chosen to support a corporation that puts workers lives directly at risk and refused to require our apparel brands, including VF Corporation, to join the Bangladesh Safety Accord.
This past Saturday, on June 28th, students from the UNC system and other schools across the country converged on the headquarters of VF Corporation in Greensboro, North Carolina to demand that VF take responsibility for the over 50 injuries and 29 deaths that have occurred in VF factories in Bangladesh. Together with community members, the students engaged in a candlelight vigil outside the home of VF Corporation CEO Eric Wiseman and demanded that VF join the Bangladesh Safety Accord. As long as UNC stands by VF Corporation, it allows VF to continue skirting its responsibilities and endangering people’s lives.
The Chapel Hill Town Council, the Chapel Hill/Carrboro NAACP, the Human Rights Center in Carrboro, the Progressive Faculty Network, the NC AFL-CIO, the UNC Student Congress, the UNC Licensing and Labor Code Advisory Committee to the Chancellor and many others have all urged UNC to require the Accord. Over 20 U.S. colleges and universities have required the Accord as opposed to accepting VF corporations “Alliance” with Walmart and Gap, a non-legally binding alternative, as a viable option.
It’s time for UNC to change course and renew its longstanding commitment to protecting human rights. We are calling on Chancellor Folt to take immediate action and cut VF’s contract with UNC-Chapel Hill and on President Ross to recommend all UNC system schools require apparel brands to be members of the Accord. In 2013, VF Corporation brought in $11.4 billion in revenue and $5.48 billion in gross profit. VF can afford to manufacture out of safe factories. UNC is a leading public academic university. We cannot afford to support a company such as VF.
Other information regarding VF Corporation:
UNC Student Action with Workers
United Students Against Sweatshops Local 91
UNC Chapel Hill | Class of 2017
Political Science | Biology (B.S.)
UNC Chapel Hill | Class of 2016
UNC Chapel Hill | Class of 2015
Political Science | American Studies
Below is a Letter to the Editor, written by George James, former member of the Black Panther Party and currently a crew leader in the UNC housekeeping department. He sent this to the Daily Tarheel (DTH) to clarify some previous statements he made in regards to the pervading discrimination and injustice in the department. This was never printed in the DTH, but is a compelling article that George (and SAW) would like to expose to the public:
“TO THE EDITOR:
Thank you for the DTH article (Sept.13, 2013) detailing the steps taken by senior managers and other parties in the Housekeeping Services Dept. to improve the culture and atmosphere for workers. While it is important not to lose the ability to look back and see where we have come from and where we hope to go, it is unfortunate that the institutional memory of UNC is so defensive and one-sided in regards to the department. The questions at the heart of my responses are both simple and profound. How much has American society and especially the South, changed with regard to race relations since 1965? Is racism still the greater problem–or is it a patronizing relic of a vanished age?
We need to remind you that a successful law suit was filed against the university 17 years ago. Most likely, if you are new to the Chapel Hill campus, or even if you have been here awhile, you have a romantic image of the history of the university–it is the ‘the first state university’, ‘the university of the people’, ‘the light that shines.’ Unfortunately, this is a censored history. It is bad enough that Cameron Avenue’s namesake was N.C.’s largest slave-holder. In another example of the way in which the university romanticizes its history, a 637 page book published in 1994 (available in the North Carolina Collection of Wilson Library) contains no mention of slavery or white supremacy in all the glowing biographies of those honored by public buildings.
An administrator’s opinion acknowledged the obvious: that a great deal has changed for the better. However, the evidence and logic value of continued mistreatment is by no means unambiguous. Still, while the days of Mr. Burston are gone, dislocation for employees remains a big problem; that is management is still “packing” Burmese nationals into single work sites, spreading Black workers thinly among several work sites and so on. Certain facts, too, are unavoidable notably that not one African-American has been selected as Chancellor thruout the 17 UNC-system schools. In short, workers have concluded that a tooth-less grievance policy coupled with case-by-case enforcement alone leave citizens with an inadequate remedy.
Nothing about the Dept. is static, as the Sept. 13 article illustrates. It’s a more complicated Dept. these days, but it’s not a fully-healed one, either. So far, the Dept. has been eager to portray itself as beyond the need for racial remedies. For better or worse, our problems are solved when the South Building says they are–and these Administrators appear determined indeed to close the door to an era that may not be completely over. For more information, go to uncsaw.wordpress/unc-labor-history.
Students who are interested in challenging institutional racism have many ways to get involved through existing campus organizations. Those who would like to educate themselves, possibly receiving course credit for their work, should consult with sympathetic faculty or campus institutions such as the Dept. of African-American Studies, the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and history, or the Institute for African-American Research. You may also contact me in care of the Employee Forum and I will be glad to assist you.
Department of Building Environmental Services”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
30 November 2012
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Housekeepers Successful in Removal of Abusive Manager, Continue to Call for Meaningful Changes to Housekeeping Department.
CHAPEL HILL – 15 rank and file housekeepers from Zone 215 filed a group grievance on November 14, 2012 alleging managerial harassment, verbal abuse, and discrimination from zone manager Juanita Williams and crew leader Annette Reaves.
With the help of UNC Chapel Hill student organization, Student Action with Workers, the housekeepers reached out to local media to share their story.
Although the Housekeeping and Human Resources departments had known about the housekeepers’ complaints of mistreatment for months, nothing had been done to remediate the problems. Yet only days after the housekeepers filed their group grievance and reached out to the community for support, Juanita Williams was fired and Annette Reaves was removed from the zone.
Members of Student Action with Workers met with 17 housekeepers from zone 215 earlier this week to hear how they felt after these changes. It was clear that housekeepers have found some relief. One housekeeper said, “Before everyone wanted to leave, now we like it here, everybody is working together”. While another reported, “Everybody is so happy, before their face was very sad but now they want to come into work”.
While the efforts of Zone 215 proved successful, they recognize it is not enough.
In their grievance housekeepers called for Annette Reaves to be demoted to her previous position of housekeeper so she would not be able to mistreat employees in the future. Instead, she was transferred to another zone, maintaining her supervisory role.
Housekeepers agree that this change is inadequate and doesn’t solve the bigger problem of worker mistreatment. “A problem here is a problem over there,” said one housekeeper,
The University also failed to respond to the final three demands of the housekeepers that address the systematic problems of managerial harassment, disrespect and discrimination that plague the entire housekeeping department.
1) Housekeepers should have a meaningful voice in choosing the supervisors in their zone.
2) A six month supervisor review process should be instated so supervisors are accountable to those in their zone.
3) Reinstate ‘Hostile Work Environment’ as a greivable offense on the grievance form. This category does not require housekeepers to differentiate between race, national origin, or gender divisions, but instead relies on the fundamental principle of human respect and dignity.
For housekeepers in Zone 215 what is clear is that, “All housekeepers are having problems, not just Zone 215, but they are scared and quiet”.
Housekeepers and students will continue to mobilize for meaningful changes to the Housekeeping Department that respond to worker needs and input.
Student Action with Workers is part of the Coalition for Workplace Democracy, which is fighting a provision in Senate Bill 575 that would remove approximately 22,000 University workers from the State Personnel Act. For all updates, please visit stopsb575.wordpress.com.
- Endorse the letter being sent to university chancellors system-wide.
- Organize a public letter delivery to your university’s chancellor.
- Submit a letter to the editor to any local newspaper. See a sample letter published in the Chapel Hill News, the Daily Tar Heel and the News & Observer.
- Plan a Teach-In/Speak-Out on your campus about SB 575.
- Come to the next coalition meeting in Saunders 321 on Wednesday at 5pm. (UNC Chapel Hill)
- Register to receive calls to action: http://stopsb575.wordpress.com/stay-informed/
- Learn more. Useful Documents: UNC Employee Resolution on SB 575, UNC Staff Assembly statement, Administration’s Response
- Attend the Board of Governors meeting in Chapel Hill at the General Administration Center on Friday, April 13, at 9am where they will be discussing SB 575.
- Email Tom Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org) asking him to stop pushing forward SB 575.
Letter to be delivered to Chancellor Thorp on Thursday at 12pm on the steps of South Building on UNC-CH’s campus. Come join us and stand against State Bill 575!
Dear Chancellor Thorp,
We are a coalition of workers, students, staff, faculty, and community organizers from across the state of North Carolina who stand firmly in opposition to the proposed Senate Bill 575: the Higher Education Efficiency and Flexibility Act. SB 575 would remove 22,000 UNC System employees from the legal protections provided to them under the State Personnel Act and give sole and complete authority to the Board of Governors to manage SPA positions. While we understand the precarious situation that the university system is in because of the General Assembly’s decision to cut funding for higher education, we believe that SB 575 will have disastrous consequences for university employees and their ability to assert their rights in the workplace.
If SB 575 is passed and the Board of Governors is given sole and complete authority to determine the parameters of employment for UNC System employees—including setting health and disability benefits, wages, grievance policies, disciplinary measures and human resources policies—there would be no higher authority, no external, objective system of checks and balances to catch possible or actual abuses of power. The deliberate vagueness of SB 575 that compelled the issuing of guiding principles is indicative of why this bill is problematic. It puts University workers in a position where they are forced to depend upon the benevolence of management as essentially “at-will” employees, able to be terminated at any time without explicit justification, giving management even more extensive control over matters critical to the livelihood of workers such as job security and benefits. While current members of the Board of Governors and UNC administrators may have the best intentions, as indicated by the guiding principles that President Ross put forth, there is no codified legal guarantee that the application of these principles will be maintained in the event that leadership transitions within University Administrations, and the Board of Governors, to individuals who do not prioritize the protection of worker’s rights.
By removing university workers across the state from legal protections for redress they now have under the State Personnel Act, SB 575 will perpetuate a work environment where employees fear retaliation if they speak out against poor working conditions, effectively silencing worker voices. As university employees, students and invested members of this community standing in solidarity for the respect and dignity of workers that tirelessly maintain our universities, we ask you to meet with representatives of our coalition to discuss the language of this bill and the ramifications its passage would have. It is our desire to open dialogue with the administration, so that we can work together to protect workers from harmful policy and legislation. We also ask that you release a public statement outlining your position on SB 575 so that we can better understand the administration’s reasoning for promoting this bill.
Finally, we invite you to a forum we are holding on Senate Bill 575, which will take place on April 4th. This event will serve as a space for both disseminating information as well as an opportunity for workers to speak from their personal experiences as to why they do not support SB 575 and how they think this legislation will make their jobs even more difficult. We hope that we can come together on this powerful date: the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. who was killed in the midst of his passionate fight for the rights of black sanitation workers. We will hold this Teach In/Speak Out in hopes of honoring his memory, as well as acknowledging the struggles faced by workers today including legislation like SB 575.
We have contacted organizers from other UNC system campuses and they will also be hosting educational events on the impact SB 575 will have on the lives of workers across North Carolina. This legislation will have a sweeping impact on the future of public employees across this state, and we feel compelled to speak out urgently against this shift in University employee designation. We urge you to join us, and stand in solidarity with workers across UNC System schools, integral members of the Carolina community, who deserve a work environment free from fear and intimidation.
Coalition Against SB 575
In a time of year where we are asked to reflect on some of America’s greatest heroes and their fight for Civil Rights for all people, regardless of the color of their skin, we cannot ignore one of Martin Luther King’s most moving calls to action—his firm belief in the ‘Fierce Urgency of Now’. We cannot separate the fight for Freedom from the movement for labor justice, for they are inextricably tied. University workers today are underpaid, systematically discriminated against and harassed in the work place, ignored by administrations, undermined in their organizing, diminished by legislation, and on top of all of this, told that students sanction this oppression. As UNC-CH Student Action with Workers, an organization dedicated to the realization of justice for all workers, we refuse to allow the perpetuation of this false narrative and we refuse to wait for the system to change. We cannot wait for administrators to come to their own conclusion that workers deserve, by the very virtue of their humanity, respect, dignity, and fair opportunity. We cannot wait because as students we have the power to raise our voices and move the University in the right direction. We cannot wait for we have waited too long, and we cannot stand idly by as workers continue to be disrespected on college campuses all over the nation. The treatment of workers today does not exhibit the values or ideals that our education attempts to instill within us. Therefore, we stand unequivocally in solidarity with the Hunger Strikers at UVA and their Living Wage Campaign.
We, Student Action with Workers,stand in solidarity with the UVA Living Wage Campaign.
We, Student Action with Workers,stand in solidarity with workers everywhere and their struggle for justice and dignity.
We, Student Action with Workers,stand in solidarity with all student organizers who rise against administrative powers, even when it is difficult, for as UVA organizer Joseph Williams so eloquently wrote, “I refuse to comply with rules, regulations, or restrictions that reinforce the discrimination, persecution, and exploitation of human beings.”
We, Student Action with Workers, stand in solidarity with all movements that seek to dismantle the systems of oppression that bind us, for all of our movements are interconnected.
We, Student Action with Workers,stand in solidarity with the Hunger Strikers, your passion and commitment inspire us in our march forward, and we are bound in your struggle.
-University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Student Action with Workers