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Striking New Era Workers Make Vow

January 17, 2002

AMHERST, N.Y. (AP) _ Six months into a strike at one of New Era Cap Co.’s four factories, union supporters on Wednesday vowed to convince universities and retailers to stop doing business with the baseball hat maker.

Striking workers, backed by an anti-sweatshop group formed by more than 80 colleges, have accused New Era of running its Derby plant, outside Buffalo, like a sweatshop.

In an August report, the group, the Worker Rights Consortium, said New Era has mishandled an extraordinarily high rate of worker injuries and punished employees for joining a union by cutting their wages and shifting production to other New Era facilities.

The AFL-CIO in turn urged its 13 million members to boycott New Era products.

``All these things are paralleling the sweatshop conditions that our students see in Mexico, Indonesia, in Honduras and throughout the developing south,″ said Amber Gallup of United Students Against Sweatshops, a student group which has taken up New Era’s cause.

New Era, which supplies caps to Major League Baseball and a host of universities, denies the accusations.

Spokesman John DeWaal noted workers at the company’s Buffalo plant accepted virtually the same contract offered in Derby. The Buffalo employees are represented by a separate union.

At a news conference marking the six-month anniversary of the strike’s start, strikers and their supporters promised to escalate an ongoing campaign to convince customers to suspend ties with New Era until the dispute is settled. Duke University, Georgetown University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison late last year postponed renewing their annual licensing agreements with New Era until the company responds to the labor-practice accusations. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill agreed to a 90-day renewal, instead of for a full year, with the same request.

Jason Koslowski, secretary of the Communications Workers of America chapter representing the workers, said there had been no face-to-face bargaining session since May. DeWaal said there had been a session in December, though both agreed there has been little progress.

DeWaal said asking for a boycott of New Era products amounted to ``working against America.″

``New Era is the last major company that employs Americans when it comes to making the caps,″ he said. ``Ninety percent of our product is still American-made where virtually all of our competitors use 100 percent foreign-made products ... They’re saying they want people to stop buying the only American-made product on the market.″

It is those foreign competitors, who pay ``pennies on the dollar for labor″ compared with New Era’s average hourly wage of $12, that have driven New Era’s push to cut costs and increase efficiency, DeWaal said.

DeWaal said the Derby plant accounts for about 10 percent of New Era’s annual production of 15 million caps. Much of the work has been redistributed to the other factories, he said, while the rest is being done by the 80 or so workers who have crossed the picket line.

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