Students march against Russell Athletic over labor issues


Armed with a large pair of cardboard scissors, more than 30 students marched from Coffman Union to University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks’ office in Morrill Hall Friday urging him to cut the contract with Russell Athletic .

U cuts Russell contract by Josh Katzenstein, Minnesota Daily

After weeks of deliberation, the University of Minnesota decided to cut its contract with Russell Athletic following a meeting Wednesday.
The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group hosted the march and dropped off the scissors and nearly 300 student letters for Bruininks advising him to cut ties with the company.

Following allegations of Russell closing a plant in Honduras, which left 1,800 people jobless after some workers tried to unionize and collectively bargain, University officials sent a letter to Russell offering them a chance to reply. The deadline for Russell to respond was Friday, and as of Friday morning, associate to the president Lynn Holleran said they had received nothing.

Although Bruininks was in Brainerd for the weekend, the students left the materials with Holleran, who said she would give them to Bruininks on Monday.

Holleran said University officials are meeting this week to discuss how to proceed with Russell, regardless of whether or not they receive word from the company.

“The University felt it was important to give Russell an opportunity to respond to the allegations and the grievances,” she said.

The claims against the apparel company breach the University’s Trademark Licensee Code of Conduct that says, “Licensees shall recognize and respect the right of employees to freedom of association and collective bargaining.”

Some of the protesters told Holleran their opinion on the matter and offered reasons why the University should cut the contract.

“We feel that if the University goes on with this, they are contradicting what they have been teaching us,” sociology and Chicano studies sophomore Julio Herrera said .

According to a blog hosted by United Students Against Sweatshops, 11 other schools have already cut their contracts with the company, and the marchers contended it is time for the University to follow suit.

“We need to cut the contract with Russell Athletic if we’re going to have the code of conduct mean anything with other companies,” University of Minnesota-Morris senior and MPIRG member Matt Abbott said.

Although the march began primarily with students from MPIRG, La Raza Student Cultural Center and other student groups, the protesters handed out fact sheets to passersby, some of whom joined in the march.

A couple students also joined in the chants against Russell, even though they did not have the facts about the allegations.

First-years Nick Nienas and Taylor Wabiszewski both began chanting with the protesters from a distance and said they understood the protest but can see reasons for why Russell closed the factory.

“We shouldn’t continue to do business [with Russell] because you should be able to assemble a union if you want to,” Wabiszewski said. “But on the other hand, I kind of do see what Russell is doing because with the economy, I’m guessing they’re trying to save as much money as they can.”

Russell tried to use the economy as an excuse for closing the plant, MPIRG member Chris Lizama said.

While Holleran told the protesters they would discuss the contract next week, Abbott said there may be another march next week if they do not cut the contract by Feb. 27.

Following the protest, students sang a song outside Morrill Hall: “I said from day to day, workers rights are thrown away. I said from hour to hour, we won’t let Russell take away their power.”