By Mandy Sugrue
University of Wisconsin Madison student, Jonah Zinn wrote a great piece on Alta Gracia this week. We are very thrilled to see more and more students continue to get excited about Alta Gracia’s work, and helping us get the word out just in time for the holidays!
Buy Alta Gracia College Apparel!
Posted on December 22, 2010 by paulgarver
For the first time, I can wear my Badger sweatshirt knowing it was made in just working conditions. Years of activism by garment worker unionists and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) have paid off as new union-made Alta Gracia hoodies and tees hit college bookstores this season.
To spread the word, I traveled the Midwest with Yenny Perez, a union leader and worker at Alta Gracia, on a 3-week USAS tour celebrating Alta Gracia as well as our recent victory over Nike. USAS, the national organization led entirely by students who fight alongside campus workers and garment workers, is calling Alta Gracia an uplifting new model for an industry plagued by corporations’ “race to the bottom.”
Workers in the Alta Gracia factory in Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic, are represented by Sitralpro, part of the Fedotrazonas union federation – a pioneer in the Caribbean textile industry, and among the first ever to have formed unions in a Free Trade Zone worldwide.
With the support of their union and labor rights watchdog Workers Rights Consortium, Alta Gracia workers have established a living wage pay rate – over 3.5 times the legal minimum wage – based on a cost of living study conducted together with workers that includes food, housing, access to healthcare, transport, child care, school fees and modest savings. Parent company Knights Apparel, the leading manufacturer of collegiate apparel in the US, sells the union-made, living-wage college gear in contemporary styles and premium quality at no increased cost to consumers, accepting worker dignity as the bottom line for doing business.
This “salario digno,” or living wage, is having a widespread impact felt across the Villa Altagracia community. Workers have been able to pay off debts, buy more nutritious food, and invest in building more secure homes. “Alta Gracia has given my family the chance for a better education — even for me to take English classes.” states union leader Maritza Vargas on a national tour of college campuses with United Students Against Sweatshops. Spurred by the flow of higher wages, restaurants have re-opened to greet the factory lunch rush, brand new moto taxis scoot workers to and from work, and businesses are budding up across town.
Things have not always been so easy in Villa Altagracia. The projects’ existence is a tribute to a history of fierce organizing. USAS and unionists, including the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center fought hard to support workers at Nike-supplier BJ&B, who organized with the Fedotrazonas union in 2000 and won a collective bargaining agreement that was unprecedented in that country. But by 2007, Nike shut down the factory, which once produced thousands of college-logo baseball caps. The community suffered severe economic depression, separating families as the single mothers who worked at BJ&B were forced to migrate away from Villa Altagracia or to the U.S. in order to put food on the table for their children.
By 2010, Knights Apparel had taken note of wide support of USAS campaigns, like the campaign that forced Russell Athletic to rehire 1,200 workers at the Jerzees de Honduras factory by achieving the most widespread college boycott of a single company ever. In a revolutionary business move, Knights met student and worker demands for fair pay, decent working conditions and union representation when it re-opened the doors of the BJ&B building as the Alta Gracia factory, reuniting the families and community of former BJ&B unionists once again.
Alta Gracia sweatshirts and t-shirts are available in over 275 university bookstores across the US as well as online, with more schools receiving first shipments in time for the holidays. At it’s prime BJ&B employed 3,500 workers, and Alta Gracia currently employs 133, so support for this project is crucial. You can buy Alta Gracia clothes for your alma mater online.
“The success of my factory, Alta Gracia, depends on whether students prove that they’d rather buy a sweatshirt knowing that it was made in fair working conditions and not in sweatshops,” Yenny Perez told us. Over the past 13 years, students at the University of Wisconsin and USAS groups around the country have successfully waged campaigns forcing corporations to come to the table to negotiate with garment workers overseas and campus workers at home. We’ve proven our ability to break brands; now it’s time to make this living wage, union factory grow.
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