Then we got the hell out of there, 'cause the cops were coming. We made it out just as the mall cops were beginning to come to the aid of a worked-up and seriously disappointed management crony. We chanted, "We'll be back!" out of our open car windows as we slipped the scene.
Hope others will send their JC Penney action updates!
Grand Valley made a giant heart shaped valentine card that we asked the JCPenny's store
manager to pass on to corporate headquarters. The front of the card said "JCPenny's Be My Sweat-Free Valentine" and the back of the card said "JCPenny's don't break our hearts! Tell Jones Apparel (Dockers, l.e.i., Jones New York, etc.) to come to the bargaining table with workers in good faith, and put an end to the severe human and labor rights violations at the Rising Sun factory in Kenya and the Avandia factory in Guatemala!"
We were dressed up in lots of red and pink to deliver the card and I think the manager
thought we were a singing telegram group at first because she seemed really excited to
talk to us...she called mall security after she read the back of the card though.
Action reports are coming in from across the US....
After having a video conference with the workers, many of us students were touched. Thus we organized a protest in Washington DC outside of the Nine West store. The groups involved were Georgetown, George Washington, American, and some community members who supported our cause. It was quite a powerful protest that went on for about an hour, we even touched a couple of Jones Apparel regulars, who vowed not to shop there again. We also gave the management letters from the workers themselves, hopefully their messages will be heard loud and clear.
George Washington University
We had our Rising Sun/Avandia protest today in the mall!
6 SUNY Albany students held up our "Students for Workers' Rights" campus group banner in front of JC Penney's in our local Albany, NY Crossgates Mall and handed out 100 fliers inside the mall...for the first time in one of our mall protests we actually left the mall before security kicked us out! (We ran out of fliers).
A bunch of JC Penney managers were huddled inside the entrance glaring at us and when I went in to talk to them and gave them a flier I realized they were really pissed off at us, which was great cuz they angrily informed me they will be forwarding our fact-flier on Rising Sun & Avandia to their corporate headquarters. And that we better leave because they were sicking mall security on us.
The student and community activists traveled to the Jones Apparel Group world headquarters in Bristol, PA to deliver letters written by wrongfully fired workers from the Rising Sun and MRC factories in Athi River, Kenya and the Avandia factory in Guatemala. All of the workers had been stitching for Jones Apparel brands when they were fired for exercising their right to organize a union.
The delegation demanded that Jones respect the right to organize in all of their supplier factories and that they ensure all wrongfully fired workers are compensated fairly - by pressuring their subcontractors and also directly paying the locked-out workers.
JAG, represented by their general counsel and their executive vice-president of human resources, attempted to deny responsibility for the firings. The delegates did not accept any of the weak and dishonest excuses offered by the company. They clearly restated their demands and pledged to continue their campaign until action is taken by the company. Under considerable public pressure, JAG agreed to another meeting in a month's time to report on their progress.
The story was covered by the Philadelphia Enquirer:
Jones hears activists' labor complaints
By Jane M. Von Bergen
Inquirer Staff Writer
In Kenya, the activists say, 1,200 factory workers making Jones Apparel Group Inc. clothing were fired in June when they protested after a coworker was beaten by his boss. Then the subcontractor closed the plant.
In Guatemala, 22 employees trying to form a union in a plant making Jones Apparel Group clothing lost their jobs in October, the activists allege.
Yesterday, a handful of student activists accompanied by some seasoned labor leaders visited Jones' headquarters in Bristol, Bucks County, at the invitation of the company's chief counsel, Ira Dansky. They also met Ida DeColli, human resources executive vice president.
"I think they did take it seriously by having us meet with high-ranking officials," said Michael Hachey, a University of North Carolina senior and an organizer with United Students Against Sweatshops.
"We've put a lot of pressure on the company publicly," said Hachey, who visited Kenyan workers last summer. he said Jones "responded by having a meeting with decision makers, but they are denying they have responsibility."
Hachey said Dansky insisted that Jones' influence over its subcontractors was limited, but Hachey disagreed.
Dansky did not allow a reporter in the meeting. "I have no comment about the substance of the meeting," he said in a follow-up phone call yesterday.
A spokesman said the company had a subcontractor-monitoring and -remediation program "to address conditions that do not meet our factory standards" and would advocate for "the workers involved."
Jones' brands include Jones New York, Easy Spirit, Nine West, GLO Jeans, Evan Picone and Gloria Vanderbilt. The students said Dansky told them that Jones uses more than 1,000 factories worldwide.
The students said they were heartened that Dansky pledged to meet with them again in a month. The students want Jones to have the Kenya factory reopened and to pay severance to any of the 1,200 unemployed workers who do not return to the factory. They want Jones to force the Guatemala factory to rehire the union workers.
Jones' Web site lists standards for contractors: They must follow local overtime laws, provide a rest day, and not use child labor. Workers must be allowed to "join organizations of their own choice" without fear.
Most of the students at the Jones meeting came from Ursinus College in Collegeville. They were enlisted by French major Dina Yarmus of Philadelphia, a regional coordinator of the group.
Based in Washington and founded in 1997, United Students Against Sweatshops sends students abroad to investigate labor issues. Allied with the AFL-CIO, the student group pushes apparel firms to improve working conditions. It also pressures colleges to buy college gear from non-sweatshop suppliers.
Joining the students yesterday were Thomas Bates, president of the Bucks Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO and other union leaders.
Barely nine months after more than 1,200 workers were violently locked out from Rising Sun, a company in the EPZ, another 1,800 workers from MRC in the same zone have been rendered jobless. Both companies were producing for international buyers including GV (Gloria Vanderbildt).
After breaking for December holidays with half salary and no overtime payment, the workers got a rude shock when they came back ready to work in order to accomplish the resolution of the year 2007 only to get a memo informing that the company will open on 15th January instead of 4th January. Even before the former was reached another memo was posted redirecting the workers to report on 22/01/07/
The workers feel cheated because they were to be paid the remaining amount on 15th January. With landlords and school fees on their neck, the burden is weighing them down and they are appealing to the government to help them regain their job back or be paid redundancy as per the law of the land.
On the other hand the Tailors and Textile Workers Union (TTWU) is working around the clock to make sure that justice prevails for the workers with a series of meetings between EPZ Authority and manufacturers. As for the workers, they have only to wait and hope for the best.
If you would like to get more involved here are the dates and contact info for protests happening in a city near you:
New York- Sunday Dec. 17 Jessie Leiken 301-512-7109
Boston- Sunday Dec. 17 Jamila Martin 617-549-6813
Philadelphia- Wednesday Dec. 20 Dina Yarmus 215-280-0111
Washington, DC- Wednesday Dec. 20 Zack Knorr 951-368-8004 Tell me more
Send a letter to the following decision maker(s):
CEO of Jones Apparel Peter Boneparth
Executive VP and General Counsel Ira Dansky
Manager of Corporate Compliance Matthew Xu
President of Aldem International B.C. Caldem
VP Corporate Compliance and Human Rights Laura Whitman
Below is the sample letter:
Subject: Stop the union-busting!
Dear [decision maker name automatically inserted here],
I am writing to express my concern over the anti-union practices that seem to be common place in factories producing for Jones Apparel. Six months ago, workers at the Rising Sun Factory in Kenya were fired and beaten simply for protesting the low wages, sexual harrassment, and other unacceptable practices that were happening every day in their factory. Many of these workers were blacklisted, and it is my understanding that they are owed more than 500,000 dollars in severance that has yet to be paid. In addition, workers throughout the Athi River Zone, an area in which Jones Apparel is one of the major buyers, have been attempting to renegotiate their collective bargaining agreement for over a year while factory management throughout the region has refused to bargain in good faith.
At the same time, similar abuses have taken place in the Avandia SA factory in Guatemala. Some time ago, your company agreed to participate in a code of conduct compliance pilot project at this factory in which 37 workers were elected by their co-workers to receive training and to become worker representatives. Unfortunately, factory management never acted in good faith with these workers and, in the last two months, more than 25 workers have been fired simply for trying to exercise their associational rights.
I find this kind of behavior to be unacceptable, and would urge Jones Apparel to live up to its responsibilities by ensuring that the following steps are taken:
As concerns the workers of Rising Sun:
1. Ensure that all fired workers are either rehired or receive the compensation to which they are entitled.
2. Participate in good faith in the stakeholder meeting between the Tailors and Textile Workers Union, Athi River EPZ employers and buyers and ensure that buyers are working towards the payment of a living wage in the zone.
3. Offer incentives for employers to end the casualization in the region and to bargain in good faith with the Tailors and Textile Workers Union.!
As concerns the workers of Avandia SA:
1. Ensure that all of the terminated workers are rehired and that they receive all lost wages to which they are entitled.
2. Ensure that the factory management make oral and written statements expressing their commitment to protecting workers' rights, including the right to freely associate.
3. Publicly commit to keeping the level of orders at the factory steady while working with factory management to attain compliance with basic standards of worker rights.
I am deeply disturbed to discover that Jones Apparel Group would even tacitly allow such abuses to occur, and I expect that your company will take the steps necessary to ensure that these abuses are addressed.
Update from Claudia (regional organizer for USAS):
It seems as though the reason they sent the letter is because of the fact that we are holding a public hearing tomorrow to hold them accountable. Our focus will be on following up to make sure Steve and Barry's takes responsibility and repays/rehires workers but moreover to continue to pressure CU to implement a sustainable solution that will prevent such cases in the first place, namely the DSP. This is a good step in the direction of approaching licensees.
A group of Rising Sun workers spoke with the hunger striking students yesterday via a conference call. Afterwards, they wrote this letter of support:
We are the workers of the Athi River Export Processing Zone in
- We don’t have medical cover.
- The salary is below living standards. We are earning about 2-3 US dollars per day.
- The salaries are delayed, hence we get a lot of embarrasment from the landlords and even get locked out of our houses.
- We even work forced overtime without any pay.
- The employers don’t respect the collective bargaining agreement.
- Due to the low wages we get, you find expatriate managers harrass girls sexually and workers are forced into commercial sex work.
- There is union-busting when we try to organize and workers are beaten by the police for demonstrating.
- Even transport is not given when we work until late at night.
We know that students at Purdue have been on hunger strike for weeks and we urge you to accept their demands so that they do not continue suffering. We have suffered enough in the hands of these employers and what we are requesting is for you just to accept the cause of the strike because in doing this you would have saved us and our families. If you want to confirm the kind of problem we go through, in our zones you can just talk to United Students Against Sweatshops or speak with us directly over the phone.
(Signed by 14 Rising Sun workers)
The workers also recorded a video of messages of support - click here to watch!
After months of illegally smuggling sewing machines out of the factory, Rising Sun shut down last week. This is yet another example of garment factories cutting and running to save their profits by stealing from workers.
Workers at Rising Sun led massive strikes in 2003 to win union recognition which resulted in major improvements in the factory, including increased pay and better working conditions. By 2005, however, the collective bargaining agreement expired and Rising Sun began aggressively trying to kick out the union by refusing to negotiate with workers' elected leaders. This May, Rising Sun illegally fired all union members in the factory and replaced them with casual workers who are paid less, receive no benefits and cannot join the union. None of the fired workers were paid their full terminal benefits. Now that workers are fighting back, the factory owners would rather shut down than treat their workers fairly and pay them what they are owed.
The struggle is not over! Yesterday, workers were able to win a court order blocking the remaining property at Rising Sun from leaving the zone. This means that now police will be guarding the factory 24 hours per day to prevent the remaining 200 sewing machines, factory vehicles and other equipment from leaving the country until the court case is resolved. To win this major victory, the workers collectively contributed over $200 for court and legal fees. Workers are staying strong and organized - and they need our support!
What can we do now?
- Tell Steve and Barry's University Sportswear and Jones Apparel Group that cutting and running from Kenya is NOT acceptable! Rising Sun should be reopened under fair conditions that respect workers rights. Buyers should give firm commitments that they will place longterm orders at Rising Sun if they agree to pay all locked-out workers their terminal dues, end all blacklisting of worker leaders and negotiate fairly with the workers' elected union.
- Keep screening the video and protesting Steve and Barry's and Jones to demand justice for the locked-out Rising Sun workers!
Students hold a banner outside the store...
... and then block the entrance with caution tape!
Fliers were passed out to shoppers and people on the sidewalk.
In hope, peace, and solidarity,
We are very grateful to what you are doing and we believe that the future is just. They "employer" can run away from us but not from justice. We want to encourage you to go on with ashaming the shameless investors, who only care for their gains ignoring the people who raise them in their business. And we join in saying no to sweatshops - live up to the spirit of your motto.
-N. (locked-out Rising Sun worker)
I may lack words to appreciate the kind of job you are doing in favor of the oppressed. He who does good does to himself and whoever does bad thus to himself as says the Holy Bible. Thank you once more and may God help and sustain you to help some more.
-Anonymous (locked-out Rising Sun worker)
-Trevor Strunk, USAS student
Keep up the good fight! Progress is built on the backs of the people, and one of the most important steps toward equality is unionization. We admire your persistence, courage, and determination to demand your rights. Know that there are people all over the world pulling for you, sending their hopes, prayers, and well-wishes to your cause. Stay strong and remember that you are not alone.
- Chris Curley, USAS student
When we protested at JCPenney’s two weeks ago we emphasized how workers organizing on the ground and consumers organizing in the states can have a real impact in promoting respect for workers rights in the garment industry. It is only when we hold brands and factory management accountable for the treatment of workers and upholding of codes of conduct can we assure the right to organize and the importance of worker voices in the workplace is respected! We will continue to pressure Steve and Barry’s through actions and media using the video produced with your words and experiences! This is what our solidarity looks like!
-Dina Yarmus, USAS student, Mid-Atlantic Regional Organizer
What you have been going through at the Rising Sun Factory is unbelievable. No one should have to suffer like that and I want you to know that you have support in finding justice. Union busting, blacklisting, and harassment are unacceptable. Keep fighting and know that we are all behind you.
-Caitlin Maddox, USAS student
Andrew Clark, USAS student
I am part of work at my school to hold Steve and Barry's accountable and no longer allow for workers rights abuses in such factories, I it is an honor to be working in solidarity with you all. Your struggle is an inspiration to me and to the fight for fair labor rights around the world. Thank you for supplying us with such a great example of strength and truth and I wish you the best as we continue the struggle together.
As a student in college, reading and hearing about the workers' struggle at Rising Sun, I began to feel helpless, but this is an issue that we can all overcome together, as universities and students joining together with the workers who are directly effected. Some students and I are working to get our administration to sign on to the DSP, so that we can work towards eliminating injustice and inhumane conditions in factories that make our school's apparel, much like that of Rising Sun. I believe that if we, both students across the nation and workers, join together, you (the workers) will be able to overcome this injustice forced upon you.
-Suzanne Lee, USAS student Villanova U
We Kenyans, especially at Rising Sun factory of Athi River, Kenya, we are positively motivated by what you're doing to ensure that justice is done to workers. We really need to see that all is well. Otherwise, we on the other side we are doing the same. Otherwise have a fantastic time.
-J. (locked out Rising Sun worker)
We are very much grateful for what you have helped us in putting pressure to Rising Sun EPZ - Athi River, Kenya. I think something good will come out since we have suffered a lot for the last six months now. Thanks and God bless you all.
-M. (locked out Rising Sun worker)
We are very much grateful for your support which you're supporting us Rising Sun workers. We will like to put more pressure to the management of Rising Sun EPZ and even to the government of our country, Kenya.
-H. (locked out Rising Sun worker)
They also created a flier about the Hermosa factory in El Salvador, which you can get here.
So print out some double-sided Rising Sun/ Hermosa fliers and head out to the nearest Steve and Barry's, JC Penny, Nike or Adidas store tomorrow - the biggest shopping day of the year!
Having read and seen what you people are doing on justice at rising sun, I am very happy because I know that justice is near, though it may take time. I am writing to encourage you to keep on putting pressure on the Rising Sun and other companies where workers rights are not observed. You should mobilize more students because this is the only way that the management is responding. We have gone to court and some recommendations have been given out by the court and have not been followed. Even the recommendation from the Ministry of Labour is there and they have not followed. There were some inspectors from Jones who were denied access to the factory. That shows that the factory is adamant on following the laid-down procedures. But with your mobilization, the company is feeling the pinch and I've got some information that they have really feeling the pinch because most of the subcontracts now are being taken away from the factory. Long live USAS!
-N. (Locked-out Rising Sun worker)
The Grand Valley Lanthorn covered the action:
Members of Students Against Sweatshops stage a protest at Steve and Barry’s University Sportswear at the CenterPointe Mall in Grand Rapids on Saturday. The protest was a reaction to the store’s support of the Rising Sun Factory in Kenya, a factory which produces exclusively for Steve and Barry’s and is known for its mistreatment of workers. The student organization is also encouraging the Grand Valley State University Bookstore to buy its products only from companies supporting workers’ rights.
Members of United Students Against Sweatshops deliver a letter to their Chancellor demanding action against Steve and Barrys....
...then pass out fliers outside of the Steve and Barry's store!
150 fliers about the Rising Sun factory were stuffed inside clothing in the store and another 150 were handed out to people outside.
More protests are planned for the day after Thanksgiving.
Saturday, November 18th
Steve and Barry’s store in the Centerpointe Mall
odonneka (AT) student (DOT) gvsu (DOT) edu
Students Protest Worker Abuses at Kenyan Factory
Used by Steve and Barry’s
STEVE AND BARRY’S ALLOWS WORKERS RIGHTS VIOLATIONS! DON’T LET THE SUN SET ON RISING SUN FACTORY!
Steve and Barry’s talks about their low prices, but what they don’t talk about is the appallingly low human rights standards in the factories where their clothing is produced!
Saturday, November 18th, 2006 – Students will gather to protest outside the Steve and Barry’s store in the Center Point Mall of Grand Rapids due to the recent workers rights abuses in the Rising Sun Factory. The Rising Sun Factory, located in the Athi River Export Processing Zone of Kenya, is currently producing exclusively for Steve and Barry’s. Over four months have now passed since approximately 1,272 workers were illegally locked out of Rising Sun. Last May, workers demonstrated peacefully in response to egregious mistreatment by management, including frequently delayed payment, forced and improperly compensated overtime, and verbal and physical abuse. Workers are still owed over $540,000 dollars. Students’ demand to Steve and Barry’s: “Live up to the code of conduct you agreed to follow when producing our schools apparel — fair payment for all Rising Sun workers now, stop firing union members, no blacklisting of worker leaders!”
To get a copy of the video on DVD, email: organize (AT) usasnet (DOT) org
The students chanted, passed out fliers and demanded fair payment for all fired Rising Sun workers and an end to blacklisting worker leaders and firing union members.
The USAS Mid-Atlantic Conference prepares for the action....
Marching through the King of Prussia Mall....
Protesting in front of JC Penny, a buyer of clothing from Rising Sun! Watch the video here.
UPDATE: Read the press coverage here!
The following quotes were compiled from interviews with Rising Sun workers conducted by United Students Against Sweatshops:
“The reality that is here is that there is a lot of oppression... Whatever clothes the buyers are wearing, to me I can term them as ‘blood clothes,’ because they are not being got in the just way. People are being oppressed; people are being harassed to produce their garment. It is very wrong if whatever someone is wearing is made by somebody who is not paid… They should be aware of what is happening on the ground.”
“I can talk about the major problem with the working conditions which was discrimination, nothing else. Discrimination is the one which brought all this. Because the CEO, or someone like CEO, is telling people they are like “black monkeys.” …They see the Blacks as if they are prisoners, …as if they are working with somebody who does not have their rights.”
“I had worked in Rising Sun for two and a half years. There was an incident that happened … where one of our managers, by the name Mr. ________, had abused one lady. He found that lady; she was at the table working, but there was no job. So, he threw garments on her face. After that… the lady asked ‘why did you do that?’ [He said], ‘I can fuck you and sack you.’ So, from there it was a case that came up to the Export Processing Zone Authority, where the case was presented…They ruled that the lady should forgive the man. Then the lady was asking, ‘If I was the one who had abused the manager, I would have been summarily dismissed! Why should that rule not be applied?’ Then, he came in the morning, the same same manager. You see after coming [to the authorities], there was no action that was taken so he was very proud and bragging about it. He came and then he said to the factory, “I can fuck you and sack all of you.” Then, from that statement, people were very much annoyed, so they came out demonstrating and policemen were called to throw us out…
“When the police came they abused human rights because there was no talking about anything. Ladies were being beaten. Men were being chased. That was what happened. By the time the police came, people had settled down after demonstrating, but when they evicted everyone from the factory…
“Then we came on Monday… and we found a notice that all of us are being summarily dismissed. So, after a few days… they wrote a circular, a memo, that our dues are being paid at Machakos District labor office and that after you go and take that money we will take you back to job …. When people went there, they found after working for two years, three years, they are only getting 3,000 [shillings] ($41), whereas they expected something like 20,000 ($274) … Some people were cheated to go and take the money, but after taking the money they were not taken back to the job. So, we still refuse to go and take the money, and we reported the issue to the branch secretary [of the union].
"…From there we have been fighting and some people… got jobs, but after getting jobs they are still calling from where they are working. They are saying ‘don’t employ those guys.’ I’m a victim. I was employed and I was sacked just because… there was a statement that was written that this is one of the guys that led the demonstrations. So, I was sacked.”
“They are oppressing us so much because we can’t get jobs anywhere. This one they have to be made to stop with immediate effect because what they are trying to do is they are trying to oppress us. They are trying to make us desperate so that we can agree with anything they come up with. Recently, I was working in [another factory], but I was fired because there was a circular, containing my name and around 30 other people, saying that these people are not supposed to be employed anywhere. They have circulated it in
Students say NO to illegal firings, blacklisting, and sweatshop conditions in factories that make our university logo apparel!