WRC panel attempts to involve student groups

by Travis Reed

When the University’s Licensee Labor Practices Task Force issued its recommendation that the University join the Worker Rights Consortium to University President Mark Yudof more than a month ago, both parties decided the administrators should do more to involve campus student groups.
From that consensus spawned a decision to assemble a panel of speakers to get Minnesota Student Association and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly representatives up to speed on the most recent twists in the three-year-old saga.
But Tuesday’s panel discussion turned out to be more of a retrospective one for task force members and WRC delegates, and an insider argument about the virtues of the WRC than a reach-out information session for those previously unaware of what’s at stake.
Eight panel members assembled for the discussion Tuesday at Boynton Health Service’s Great Room to speak to only six observers.
After an overview of the issue’s evolution at the University, the panel members’ discourse turned into an oppositional discussion of the WRC between Carlson School of Management professor Ian Maitland and University activists Rana Kasich and Angela Hasnedl, and a brainstorming session of how to involve more students in the process to make meetings more productive.
Maitland said the WRC’s commitment to a living wage “may deprive Third World countries of work.”
On the other hand, Kasich says the Fair Labor Association, an alternative monitoring group Maitland supports, “is more likely to cover up and whitewash sweatshop conditions” than improve the factories for workers.
In spite of the disagreements, most at the meeting wanted to offer the issue to a broader spectrum of students.
Neither GAPSA nor MSA have taken an official stance on University involvement in the WRC, although MSA previously passed a resolution to advocate WRC membership that was ultimately vetoed by MSA President Ben Bowman.
“What we want to do now is see how the WRC wants to carry out their business and what students can do to make that happen,” said MSA President-elect Matt Clark.
For now, Clark says they want to make sweatshops more of an issue for MSA, and the group encourages students to approach them and spur involvement.

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3232.