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Russell factory closed to eliminate union, says WRC report

November 18, 2008

The Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) has released findings from its investigation into allegations of freedom of association violations surrounding Russell Athletics’ planned closure of its Jerzees de Honduras plant.  

Among the findings were "that anti-union animus was a significant factor in the company’s decision to close the plant," and that threats, harassment, and interference with collective representation were used at the plant to prevent workers from exercising their right to freedom of association.

The WRC goes on to recommend that Russell reverse its decision to close the plant and to provide offers of reinstatement to any workers who have been laid off as a result of the ongoing phased dismissals at the plant.   

On October 8, 2008 Russell Athletic announced that it would close the Jerzees plant, where approximately 1,800 workers were employed, citing what it called purely economic reasons for the closure.

The move raised suspicions as it came only days after a deadlock in negotiations with the workers’ union over a first ever collective agreement. The closure announcement also happened to occur at a point in the negotiations after which government mediation would have been required under Honduran law.

During its investigation the WRC discovered evidence of dozens of statements by plant managers warning workers that the plant closing was an inevitable result of union demands.

Adding to the suspicion surrounding the motivations for the plant closure is the history of labour rights problems at the Jerzees de Honduras plant. As recently as September of 2007 the WRC investigated previous reports of labour rights violations at the factory and its sister plant Jerzees Choloma, also owned by Russell Athletic. That investigation found substantial evidence that Russell used targeted firings of 145 union supporters at both factories.

Russell Athletic eventually made offers of reinstatement and back pay to the unjustly fired workers, but only after being threatened by some of its clients. Russell produces apparel for a number of US and Canadian universities, many of which are members of the WRC and/or the Fair Labor Association (FLA).

The FLA is also conducting an investigation into the plant closing, which has not yet been concluded. Russell Corporation is a Participating Company in the FLA.

The full report is available at the WRC’s website.

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