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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Will Alabama Universities Stand Up For Workers? Hah!

Several universities have canceled licensing agreements with apparel maker Russell Corporation over the company's policies toward workers in Central America.

Steven Greenhouse, of The New York Times, reports that the University of Michigan announced it is ending an agreement with Russell because of the company's decision to close a unionized factory in Honduras.

Duke, Georgetown, Columbia, Cornell, Rutgers, and Purdue are among other universities who have curtailed agreements with Russell to protest the company's opposition to workers' rights.

Russell Corporation, a leading manufacturer of T-shirts, sweatshirts, and fleeces with university logos, has deep roots in Alabama. The company's headquarters are in Alexander City, which used to revolve around the Russell name. The company, now owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, has moved much of its manufacturing operations overseas.

Alex City is about 70 miles southeast of Birmingham, on the Highway 280 corridor between the state's largest city and the Opelika-Auburn area. You still sense the Russell presence as you drive through town. But you also sense that the company's impact on the community is not what it used to be.

Now, Russell's reputation is taking a hit, too.

Should we expect Alabama universities to stand up for workers' rights in the Russell matter? After all, the issue has a strong Alabama flavor.

We're not holding our collective breath here at Legal Schnauzer. Malcolm Porter, chancellor of the University of Alabama System, is a member of Bill Canary's Business Council of Alabama. Canary probably opposes the use of the term "union" at weddings, so don't look for Portera to show any guts on workers'-rights issues.

And UAB, which is part of the UA System, has a dismal record toward employees under the "leadership" of President Carol Garrison. UAB can't manage human resources on its own campus, so it's hard to imagine Garrison standing up for the rights of workers on another continent.

After all, Garrison is busy protecting UAB employees who send racist and homophobic e-mails. And in her spare time, she has been busy firing a veteran employee for writing a progressive blog, in his own time, that dared to critique the Bush Justice Department and other Republican luminaries. Who has time to worry about poor slobs in Honduras?

Universities in a number of states are taking courageous and principled stands on the issue of workers' rights. But look for Alabama institutions to sit on their collective duffs.


Robby Scott Hill said...

Wouldn't be one bit surprised if many of the board and committee members at Russell Corporation and those at Alabama's Universities are the same folks or are college buddies or attend church with them. You can't rock the boat in Alabama you know. Their people know the people who control your county, your city and your neighborhood. You will be railroaded if you don't walk in lockstep with Alabama's Robber Barons who can order your financial destruction at the drop of a hat if you get between them and their money.

Anonymous said...

What good is "workers rights" when they no longer have a job. As for Russell in Alabama, that is history as it no longer exist in Alabama.