Armed with a megaphone and posters that read “Unidos Para Justicia” (United for Justice), “Respect Workers’ Rights” and “We don’t want `Jack’ to do with sweatshirts,” members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee gathered in Red Square yesterday to rally for the end of the university’s contract with the Russell Corporation, an apparel manufacturer for Georgetown.
For approximately 15 minutes, GSC members shouted in the open square against the Russell contract. The Workers’ Rights Consortium – an international labor rights organization of which Georgetown is an affiliate – reported in November that the apparel company shut down one of their three factories in the Honduras, Jerzees de Honduras, when workers attempted to form a union.
“What’s disgusting? Union busting!”
The protest was organized in conjunction with members of a national network of student organizations, United Students Against Sweatshops.
oises Elias Montoya Alvarado, president of the Sitrajerzeesh union of workers at Jerzees de Honduras, attended the Red Square rally, urging students to take action.
“We are asking students to pressure universities to cut contracts, as our basic rights have been violated,” Alvarado said.
Alvardo and Sitrajerzeesh Vice President Norma Estela Mejia Castellanos, another speaker at the rally, were both sewing machine operators at the Jerzees de Honduras factory before it closed down. They are touring universities across the country, with support from Students Against Sweatshops, to speak about the experience losing their jobs after attempting to unionize and campaign for better wages and hours. Castellanos said she is worried the unionized workers will no longer be employable at other factories because of the closure as some have already been rejected from Hanes after applying, according to the Fair Labor Association.
“They have been facing numerous threats and abuses, from death threats to other exploitative abuses,” GSC member Joe Parker (SFS ’10) said.
arley Moynahan (COL ’11), an organizer of the event and GSC member, said that the reasons for the factory closure, as determined by the investigations of the Worker Rights Consortium, violated the Code of Conduct for Georgetown University Licensees, which explicitly recognizes the right of workers to freely associate and collectively bargain. She said that she sees the rally as a way of pressuring the university to take a stand.
“In addition to raising the awareness of fellow students about the origins of their college apparel, we hope that Georgetown will not tolerate Russell’s blatant intimidation tactics of its work force and will send that message by cutting our contract,” Moynahan said. “As a Jesuit university, we expect our campus community and Georgetown as an institution to be a leader in worker rights and to stand in solidarity with those whose dignity is neglected and whose voices are being suppressed.”
After speaking in Red Square, GSC members, along with Alvarado and Castellanos, delivered a letter to University President John J. DeGioia.
Russell Athletic, which retains more than 15,000 employees, is one of the largest manufacturers of sporting apparel and equipment in the world. Due to pressure from its local USAS chapter, the University of Miami has already cut its contract with the company, according the rally media advisory.