Students occupy Powers’ office in attempt to gain support for Worker Rights Consortium

Joe Layton

A group of students occupied President William Powers Jr.’s office for about three hours Friday to convince him to sign a petition to join a workers’ rights group.

Members of Students Against Sweatshops and Oxfam UT, fair labor advocacy organizations, have worked for more than a year to schedule a meeting with the president. They want him to support the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent group that monitors factory working conditions.

Currently, the UT System is affiliated with the Fair Labor Association, which allows companies to monitor the working conditions in their own factories. Billy Yates, economics senior and Students Against Sweatshops member, said the FLA presents a conflict of interest because companies are less likely to report poor labor conditions in their own factories.

“The WRC reports are more accurate, and we know this from talking with the workers,” Yates said. “The FLA has contradicted itself in reports before, and our main concern is that the companies are monitoring themselves.”

Six student representatives met with Powers on Friday. Yates said he hoped Powers would have signed a document committing to the WRC, although Powers said the meeting was only for him to listen to student concerns.

“The meeting was misrepresented, and I will not go through with discussing a resolution,” Powers said.

During the meeting, the students requested a commitment to the WRC or a time frame detailing when Powers could make a decision. Powers offered none and said he would present the information to administrators at the System level.

After Powers ended the meeting, the students remained in his office in protest. About 30 more supporters chanted phrases, such as “people over profit,” from the lobby.

Doug Garrard, the senior associate dean of students, asked the representatives to peacefully leave and said the president had only agreed to a meeting, not a decision.

“The easy way to get us out of the office is committing to the WRC,” said Carson Chavana, geography junior and Students Against Sweatshops representative.

The supporters in the lobby continued chanting while the representatives in the office called and emailed friends to flood the president’s office with phone calls. Powers did not return to discuss a resolution, and the representatives left the office at 4:50 p.m.

“Powers was being diplomatic and avoided making any set decision,” said Kamene Dornubari-Ogidi, neurobiology senior and Students Against Sweatshops member. “In my opinion, this was a move to blockade us.”