By Melissa Horsfall and Lingran Kong
After months of legal wrangling, the Dane County Circuit Court in Wisconsin has ruled that the union representing former Adidas garment workers has the right to intervene as a third party in the ongoing lawsuit between the University of Wisconsin and Adidas. The UW filed suit against Adidas last summer over the company’s refusal to pay $1.8 million in legally owed severance pay to 2,800 former workers at PT Kizone, a shuttered Adidas supplier factory in Indonesia.
After the workers filed to intervene in September, Adidas maneuvered to try to block the effort, but the judge ruled against the company, recognizing that the PT Kizone workers’ union has the right to intervene because it has differing interests, goals, and strategies than the university. This decision will allow the workers to present their case alongside the Wisconsin Attorney General, who represents the UW.
UW-Madison has an $11 million sponsorship agreement that grants exclusive rights to Adidas to outfit UW athletes. Students, along with community allies like the South Central Federation of Labor and the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice have called on UW-Madison to terminate the contract. In November of 2011, UW-Madison’s Labor Licensing Policy Committee recommended that Chancellor Ward cut ties with Adidas, and the Dane County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution this summer supporting the effort.
Since the lawsuit was filed, Cornell University, Oberlin College, the University of Washington, Rutgers University, Georgetown University, and the College of William & Mary have all ended or pledged to end their contracts with Adidas over the PT Kizone violations. The decision by the court to allow the workers’ union to join the suit brings UW-Madison one step closer to joining these six universities in taking a stand to demand accountability and fair labor practices from companies producing collegiate apparel.
Melissa Horsfall and Lingran Kong are students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and members of the Student Labor Action Coalition, a USAS affiliate.