New Era, Mobile – Final Update
May 23, 2008
I write to update you concerning the case of New Era Cap Company’s Mobile, Alabama production facility.
As you probably know, shortly after the WRC concluded its investigation concerning allegations of discrimination at the facility, and prior to our issuance of a report, New Era and the Teamsters Union concluded a collective bargaining agreement — as well as a second agreement concerning union neutrality at another facility in Alabama. As part of this second pact, the Teamsters agreed, at New Era’s request, to withdraw their original complaint to the WRC and ask us to cease our inquiry. The Teamsters then sent the WRC a letter to this effect.
We felt compelled to defer to the decision of workers at the facility, acting through their elected representatives, to ask us to end our inquiry and to withdraw the complaint that gave rise to it. We also did not wish to introduce new conflict into a case where the conflicting parties had ended their hostilities. We therefore decided not to issue a report on the Mobile case; we consider our work on the case to be at an end.
As you know, a significant issue in this case was the unwillingness of New Era to grant the WRC access to the facility for purposes of a labor rights inspection. This became a moot point with regard to the Mobile facility after the WRC decided to end its work on the case. However, there remained the question of factory access in the context of potential future complaints, including potential complaints concerning New Era’s overseas contract factories (which are primarily located in China). We therefore decided to communicate with New Era in an attempt to resolve this issue. The company’s response is best summarized by quoting from a letter they sent to us at the end of April (New Era copied a number of universities on this communication — I would be happy to share the full letter with anyone who has not seen it):
“Therefore, with respect to any future alleged violations of the code at New Era’s contract manufacturers outside the U.S., allow us to say that we are fully committed to granting WRC access but would ask that we treat each case on an individual basis. That way, we can best ensure that the alleged violation is not tied to or an extension of an ongoing labor dispute in the U.S. Once we have made that determination, we would work with the WRC to allow full and complete access to the facility in question.”
In light of the Mobile case, universities may also wish to look, going forward, at the broader question of the proper role for monitoring organizations at domestic facilities producing logo apparel. As this case demonstrated, this is a complex question on which there is not now a clear procedural consensus.
Please let me know if you have any thoughts or questions about this update.