City Council votes today on a resolution asking schools to join the Worker Rights Consortium. A Penn T-shirt hung on the podium in the caucus room in City Hall during a press conference yesterday afternoon. But taped in front of the University logo was a sign that read, "retail price $16.00, worker paid 35 cents." The message from Penn students, other local University students and City Council yesterday was clear -- schools need to stop using sweatshop labor. Members of Penn's chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops joined other students yesterday to support a Philadelphia City Council resolution -- sponsored by Council member David Cohen -- that calls on area schools to reject the Fair Labor Association, a coalition that does not guarantee workers the right to join labor unions or receive living wages. The resolution also asks that schools join the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent monitoring system for factories that produce collegiate apparel. Cohen praised the students for bringing this issue to the table and said he hoped this step would push local universities and colleges to take action. "In this case the students are doing the teaching instead of the universities, and we hope this changes," said Cohen, who graduated from Penn's Graduate School of Education in 1934 and the Law School in 1937. Five local labor unions, 11 community and religious organizations and seven university student groups endorsed the resolution. After the press conference, students held a candlelight vigil outside City Hall in support of the resolution, which City Council will vote on this morning. "I think that the support clearly demonstrated that this is not just a student issue," said Penn USAS member Miriam Joffe-Block, a College senior. "It's an issue for members of the community? anyone concerned with social justice." USAS members from Penn have been demanding since September that the University join the Worker Rights Consortium. On November 14, students staged a sit-in in University President Judith Rodin's office, demanding that Rodin meet with them to discuss the University's current sweatshop policy. The social issue has rapidly spurred student activism in schools throughout the United States and Canada. "It has been absolutely exhilarating to see the growth of the issue," Haverford College senior Maria Roeper said, noting that the number of schools involved in USAS has increased from about 30 in 1997 to nearly 180 now. "People are shocked when they hear about the horrible conditions [of sweatshops]," Roeper added. According to Linda Panetta, founder of the social justice group Peacekeepers Action Network and a speaker at the press conference, sweatshop employees in places like Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador work 12-hour days, six days a week, for a wage that falls far below the living wage rate -- the bare minimum needed for the fundamental needs of food, shelter and clothing. Penn USAS member and College sophomore Roopa Gona added, "Women [employees] are forced to take contraceptives?. If they become pregnant, they are sometimes forced to pay themselves to have an abortion if they want to continue working." Joffe-Block said she thought the event would help make the sweatshop issue a top priority for administrators. "I am confident that the University will follow the will of the students in implementing human rights," Joffe-Block said.Comments powered by Disqus
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