Yudof leaning toward WRC membership

Travis Reed

A resolution to the sweatshop debate is less than a week away, University President Mark Yudof said Wednesday, and all signs point to University affiliation with the Worker Rights Consortium.
Speaking from Washington, D.C., where he is attending a conference, Yudof telephoned a handful of University sweatshop activists to say he reviewed the Licensee Labor Practices Task Force report and promises to make a decision by Friday or Monday.
Yudof said he is leaning toward accepting the task-force recommendation, which prescribes affiliation with the WRC, a labor-monitoring organization supported by sweatshop and human-rights activists and organized labor groups.
He also said he has no intention of joining the Fair Labor Association, a controversial monitoring organization criticized by activists for being managed by corporate interests.
But activists say they want a more decisive commitment to join the WRC sooner.
Nearly 40 students staged a demonstration Monday and presented University administration with a list of demands — including a call for a verbal agreement from Yudof to affiliate with the WRC by Wednesday afternoon.
“If he’s had enough time to look at the FLA and make a decision, I don’t know why he hasn’t for the WRC,” said Rana Kasich, a Chicano studies senior and member of the sweatshop task force. “It’s possible he’s already made a decision and wants to talk to more people so it doesn’t look like we rushed him.”
Before making a final decision, Yudof said he wants to meet with the Minnesota Student Association and several University vice presidents and deans for further input.
“I think I owe it to the University to be deliberate,” Yudof said. “I want to think about it a little more and make sure we’re on the right track.”
Yudof said he wants to examine decisions of other Big Ten universities to ensure the school is joining an effective organization. Currently, the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Indiana University have conditionally signed on to the WRC.
Kasich said the meeting provided mixed success. She’s pleased that Yudof intends to join the WRC, but disappointed that he’s not joining by the date outlined in their demands.
“We trust (Yudof) to keep his word, but we want to ensure that he will,” Kasich said, adding that University activists are looking for their success to lead the way for activists at other Big Ten institutions.
As foretold in their demands, Kasich and others held an emergency meeting Wednesday night and will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. today on the front steps of Morrill Hall.
Yudof said he would proceed on the same timeline whether or not the students staged protests, but that he’s “a big believer in freedom of personal expression” and supports the students’ right to protest as long as they don’t obstruct normal University functions.

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