The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday June 29th

SEJ Goes to the Mattresses Over Nike

During the "UNC Get out of Bed with Nike" protest, demonstrators received chuckles and stares, but SEJ members said they're organizing for a serious issue.

The SEJ has been fighting the University's contract with Nike -- up for renewal this year -- because of allegedly poor working conditions and recent unjustified firings of Kukdong factory workers in Puebla, Mexico.

The University has asked Nike, which does not own the Kukdong factory but contracts with it to produce UNC apparel, to fight the alleged unfair treatment toward the workers.

But members of the SEJ are dissatisfied with the speed of the situation's progress. They are asking University officials, namely Chancellor James Moeser, to sever the University's contract with Nike if conditions do not improve.

"It has been a month and a half since Chancellor Moeser sent a letter to Nike," said Courtney Sproule, an SEJ member. "It is important that action be taken immediately. The longer it takes for the workers to be reinstated, the less chance they have for a union to be recognized."

But Rut Tufts, co-chairman of the Labor Licensing Code Advisory Committee, said both UNC and Nike are making efforts to address the situation, though progress has been slower than the protesters would like. "We agree that workers need to get back and deserve retribution," Tufts said. "But Nike does not own the factories. They can only influence them."

The protest, held outside South Building, where Moeser's office is located, consisted of interpretive dances and chanting students. The steps of South Building were strewn with mattresses that were spray-painted with phrases like "UNC get out of bed with Nike" and "Terminate the Nike Contract."

Two mannequins, with pictures of Moeser and Nike CEO Phil Knight strapped to their faces, snuggled in a bed together, referring to the close relationship between the University and the sports equipment and clothing powerhouse.

Two SEJ members clad in business suits performed a ballet-type dance to orchestrated music, interpreting a break-up between the University with Nike. In the dance, a Knight impersonator begged a Moeser mimic to stay in the relationship, but the Moeser mimic ripped a paper with "Nike contract" written on it to shreds and threw it on the ground.

SEJ members cheered at the tattering finale and proceeded to form a line, marching into South Building toward Moeser's office. They chanted the phrase, "Reinstate the workers or terminate the contract," and then posted a copy of their demands on Moeser's door.

Moeser was in Washington, D.C., during the protest but ordered two pizzas for the protesters, which were enjoyed by some demonstrators.

SEJ members said they wanted students to take notice of their display and gain awareness about the University's relationship with Nike, as well as Nike's involvement with the Kukdong factory. "(The display) was bizarre," said Alana Glaser, an SEJ member. "It caught people's attention, which is what we wanted."

Students and faculty walked by the make-shift bedroom with gawking stares and open mouths. SEJ members handed out fliers with information of the Kukdong factory firings and Nike's involvement with the alleged sweatshop.

Participants in the protest demanded that all fired workers be rehired under the same salary prior to the firing.

They also demanded that Nike commit to the continual presence of local monitors at the factory to ensure a free and fair climate for an election where workers can secure an independent union that represents their voices.

Moeser, under the guidance of the Licensing Labor Code Advisory Committee, sent a letter last month to Nike and reminded the company of the University's labor code, which requires that licensee factories refrain from using child labor and ensure a fair and just environment for workers.

Tufts said a pilot survey was implemented to find the truth about Nike factories. "We know that these conditions exist," he said. "We have to come up with the tools to address factories across the nation. But it is a working process."

But SEJ members said a lack of immediate action is what concerns them. "People are starving," said SEJ member Kea Parker. "Nike can wait this out, but the workers can't."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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