As a worker's strike ensues at the Kukdong International plant in Puebla, Mexico, Moeser sent a letter to Nike on Thursday informing the company that the University is aware of supposed labor code violations at the factory. The plant manufactures sweatshirts for UNC and the universities of Michigan, Oregon, Arizona and Indiana.
Eight hundred employees at the factory staged a worker's strike Jan. 9 after 20 workers allegedly were fired for complaining about rotten food, poor wages and receiving no Christmas bonus.
But the dispute has shifted to the issue of the workers' right to represent themselves. The employees are asking the company to recognize an independent union and disregard the current company union, which was instituted during the previous Mexican government. UNC officials are worried that the workers' freedom to assemble, a key element of the University's labor code, is being jeopardized.
Moeser's letter to Nike stated that "... we reaffirm to Nike this University's commitment to freedom of association as one of the basic labor standards we have required our licensees to adopt; and that you encourage them to do everything in their power to ensure that principle is carried out."
Labor Advisory Committee Co-chairman Rut Tufts said it is difficult for the University to assess the situation in Mexico because the facts are still not concrete.
Tufts said the Workers Rights Consortium, a labor monitoring group to which UNC belongs, also has sent a letter to Nike and is planning to send representatives to Puebla to investigate and elucidate the logistics of the dispute. A Nike representative also is in Mexico.
Tufts said the University primarily wants to ensure a fair resolution process at the plant and ensure the workers' interests are best represented. "We're not really getting involved in a labor dispute, but we want it carried out in a fair way," he said.
Students for Economic Justice representative Todd Pugatch said he is impressed by Moeser's prompt attention to the situation. "I think it's very appropriate that the Chancellor let Nike know we take labor code violations very seriously, and (the company) should take action as soon as possible," he said.
Pugatch said he is hopeful Moeser's action will bring about reform at the factory. "I think it's a step in the right direction ... the next step is to see if this will improve workers' lives," he said.
Pugatch said SEJ, who sent representatives to meet with Committee Co-chairmen Tufts and Jim Peacock Monday, will keep pressing the issue until it is resolved justly. "We'll continue to watch the situation closely and make sure the freedom of association is being respected at this factory."
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