Co-op gets 'Union Made'

The Daily Campus - News (UConn)

By Rob Barry

A new "Union Made" area in the UConn Co-op opened April 13 after several months of negotiations between the Coalition for a Sweat Free UConn (CSFU) and Co-op management. Patrons are guaranteed that any Union Made merchandise purchased has been manufactured under fair labor conditions as laid out by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

"This is obviously an issue of interest to the students," said William Simpson, president and general manager of the Co-op. "We want to be in line with the sensibilities of the student body."

Currently the "Union Made" area occupies one set of stand-alone shelves with a mix of T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts. Simpson said if the merchandise does well, this could come to include hats, sweatshirts and other goods.

Since the shirts are of simple design, they are within the same price range as the normal merchandise. If a greater variation of items is brought in, however, some could be higher priced.

"We're going to test the consumer acceptance of [the union made items] and listen to what our customers tell us," Simpson said.

The items are selling well, according to Co-op's Marketing Manager Erica Pagliuco.

The student-run CSFU hopes the Co-op will eventually stock only union made goods.

"We're pleased overall that we were able to meet our initial goal, and get the Co-op to introduce a line of clothing under the Union label in a timely manner," said Bonnie Atwood, an art major and member of the CSFU. "We're also appreciative that the merchandise is located in a highly visible location."

A pamphlet will soon be included with the display that lays out the benefits of the Union Made label. It will explain what a sweatshop is and let customers know that the merchandise they are purchasing was not made under those conditions.

Renowned author and anti-sweatshop activist Robert J.S. Ross told The Daily Campus in March exactly what the term "sweatshop" means.

"Basically, a sweatshop is any [employer] that allows multiple violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act," Ross said. "This act requires the payment of minimum wage, overtime pay for any time worked that exceeds the 40-hour workweek, restrictions on the employment of children and sound record keeping."

University President Phillip Austin recently formed the Task Force on Sweatshop Labor to further look into the issue, according to Simpson. The group, comprising students, staff and faculty, is out to verify the Co-op's other products are not made in sweatshop conditions.

"There should be a report out by the end of the semester, and after that, recommendations for action," Simpson said.

"We'd like to encourage students to be socially conscious consumers and buying the Co-op's Union Made apparel will support our effort," Atwood said.

"Ultimately, we are working towards a sweat-free UConn and hope we can set an example for other college's and universities to do the same."