Thursday, April 30, 2009

Going Clubbing: Working Hard for Workers' Rights

Chances are high you’ve been to the U-store (specifically, the gear store on Nassau) at some point during your time at Princeton; if your father is anything like mine, these visits may even have been quiet frequent and involved the purchase of an entirely new, Princeton-spirited wardrobe—but then again, that might be a habit unique to him…

Regardless, you probably weren’t aware that the black and orange T-shirt or pair of shorts you purchased, if it was manufactured by Russell Athletic, is at the center of one campus activist group’s campaign for change. Princeton for Workers’ Rights (PWR) is an organization of students dedicated to the belief that “Princeton has a special responsibility to ensure that it does not profit at the expense of workers' basic dignity,” according to Scott Falin ’12. While the group began with a specific focus on issues pertaining solely to campus workers, they’ve since expanded their efforts to companies with whom the University invests or does business—including Russell Athletic, which club members report is a “serial abuser of labor rights.”

At the meeting I attended this Tuesday, members were busy discussing the results of an event they hosted last week, advertised with flyers asking, “Who’s Princeton in bed with? And who’s stuck making the bed?” A reference to the University’s investment in HEI Hotels and Resorts, these attention-grabbing posters seem to have accomplished their purpose, for PWR members were pleased with the turnout for the event: “We had at least fifty people come out” to listen to a talk given by an HEI employee claiming to have been fired in connection with his efforts to organize fellow workers, said Ian Carlin ’12.

It was clear that PWR’s members are extremely committed to their cause, in action as well as rhetoric: also discussed on Tuesday was the group’s recent meeting with President Tilghman, during which they presented a petition (with 900+ signatures!) asking Princeton to send a formal letter of written concern to HEI’s managerial board in relation to their reputed violations of workers’ rights. While Tilghman reportedly promised to get back to the group within a week, PWR was already planning to send a follow-up delegation to her office. “We want her to realize that we aren’t going to forget about this issue!” Carlin exclaimed.

Though several of the group’s members will graduate next month, Falin remains convinced that PWR will “continue to be a leader in promoting workers’ rights on campus,” and that administrators currently “less than enthused” to respond to some of the group’s demands will soon realize that “this is an opportunity for Princeton to demonstrate real leadership.”
If PWR can continue the momentum they seem to have built up over the past year, a response from Nassau Hall seems inevitable. Until then, I just may have to have a talk with my father about his U-Store habit…