In the midst of a contract lawsuit between the University of Wisconsin-Madison and its primary licensing partner adidas, a union representing unpaid workers at an Indonesian factory contracted by adidas requested to be part of the university’s lawsuit against the apparel company, a move UW-Madison’s Labor Licensing Policy Committee supports.
The request comes nearly two months after negotiations between UW-Madison and adidas failed to resolve the dispute over whether or not adidas owes more than 2,700 workers nearly $2 million in severance pay after an adidas-contracted Indonesian factory, PT Kizone, closed down in January 2011.
LLPC Chair Lydia Zepeda said the addition of the workers’ union to the plaintiff party would benefit the case for UW-Madison, as it could provide additional factual information about the factory operations and Indonesian laws that are relevant to the case.
Zepeda also said Wisconsin law states if a party has “any interest which would be affected by the declaration,” that party should be made a part of the lawsuit.
“It only makes sense that [the union] should be a party in [the lawsuit] since it directly affects them,” Zepeda said. “So that’s why [the LLPC] supported it.”
Following PT Kizone’s shut down, LLPC members called for UW-Madison Chancellor David Ward to cut ties with adidas because they said adidas violated its contract with the university, which includes fully compensating workers. But to the committee’s disappointment, Ward instead entered a mediation period with the company, saying UW-Madison was contractually obligated to do so and the university could be vulnerable to a lawsuit if they did not enter mediation.
After the mediation failed to resolve the issue, Ward filed an “action for declaratory relief” to allow the Dane County circuit courts to decide who is responsible for the payment of the workers.
The Wisconsin legal representative for the union of the Indonesian workers Barbara Quindel said they are still awaiting response from the university’s legal counsel on the whether or not the group will be allowed to join the suit, which has an uncertain timeline.
Despite the fact that including the union in the lawsuit could lengthen the time it takes to reach a decision, Zepeda said the benefits outweigh the negatives.
“I think the upside of it would be that the law firm representing the workers might be able to provide additional information and might strengthen the case for the PT Kizone workers to be paid,” Zepeda said.
Because the university is currently in litigation, Vice Chancellor for University Relations Vince Sweeney declined to comment.