Activists stage another protest

Samuel Liebl

Less than two weeks after staging a sit-in in the lobby of President William Powers Jr.’s office, the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition carried out a similar demonstration Monday afternoon in the Office of the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Unlike the April 18 sit-in, the activists decided not to stay in the office after 5 p.m., which would have resulted in arrests.

Monday’s sit-in came after a candlelight vigil held in front of Powers’ Tarrytown home Sunday night, when 25 activists used candles to illuminate several crosses bearing the names of deceased or murdered workers.

Plan II senior Andrew Wortham, who participated in Monday’s sit-in, said the coalition’s demands remain the same — that the President meet with the group’s student leaders and that the University affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium.

The WRC, the coalition argues, would more effectively monitor labor conditions in factories producing UT apparel than the Fair Labor Association, the monitoring agency with which the University currently affiliates.

“We told the administration that we were not leaving until a meeting between the President’s office and our democratically-elected leaders had been arranged,” Wortham said. “Administrators said that if we wrote a letter to the Dean of Students and to the President requesting a meeting that they would respond with an answer within 24 hours.”

The administration’s response to the letter will indicate whether President Powers’ stance on meeting with coalition members has changed or remained the same since the April 18 arrests.

“The students are going to submit via email a list of names to meet with President Powers,” saidUniversity spokesman Gary Susswein. “The President has concerns about meeting with students who have been arrested. We will see which students are on their list and their reasons for why they should meet with the President.”

The administration agreed to meet with two student members of the coalition last week — geography senior Carson Chavana and special education graduate student Alonzo Mendoza, neither of whom were arrested on April 18. The administration, however, refused to meet with previously arrested leaders William Yates, an Asian studies senior, and Bianca Hinz-Foley, a Plan II student not enrolled this semester. The coalition rejected the meeting on the grounds that Chavana and Mendoza would not be able to adequately represent the diverse coalition or provide the administration with new information regarding labor conditions.

The activists entered the office in order to submit Freedom of Information Act requests for documents pertaining to the University’s labor contracts, licensing agreements with apparel brands including Nike and the locations of factories that produce UT apparel, Wortham said. “We got into the office around 2 or 2:30 p.m., lined up against a wall and began filling out FOIA applications,” Wortham said.

Office staff were holding a party for a co-worker when the activists arrived and police kept some protesters outside because the room’s maximum occupancy limit had been reached, Wortham said.

“The cops said that we had to leave because, with the office party going on, the room was beyond its maximum occupancy,” Wortham said. “We told them that our business was more official than their office party and refused to leave.”

Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as: Protesters sit-in at administrative office