Students protest UW/Nike contract - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Students protest UW/Nike contract

By Jeff Angileri - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MADISON (WKOW) -- At least 50 University of Wisconsin students marched on Bascom Hill Thursday afternoon, demanding the school sever ties with Nike.

Four months ago, Chancellor Biddy Martin issued the apparel company an ultimatum -- clean up your act, or we'll take away your license to do business with the UW.

That deadline passed April 7, and now students want action.

They chanted in unison, "Show us what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like," and carried dozens of protest signs, demanding retribution for Nike workers.

The controversy started 2,000 miles away in Honduras. Two factories, operated by Nike subcontractors, closed abruptly in January 2009, locking out workers.

Student say these 1,600 - 1,800 workers still haven't been paid $2.2 million dollars they are legally owed in severance, wages, and benefits.

In letters to the UW, Nike said it was "deeply concerned" by the allegations, and called the situation "a learning opportunity."

Nike, meantime, pays the University of Wisconsin more than $48,000 to use the university symbol and other logos.

"I think it gives a very bad image to our university," said student Kayla Johnson. "Someone needs to stand up and say this is wrong."

Students want Chancellor Martin to cut the contract with Nike immediately.

"If she cuts it, that's fantastic and we will commend her for it. We'll be very happy and she will definitely get all our support for making the right decision," said student Jonah Zinn. "I think students are going to be outraged if she doesn't do anything and continues to stall."

As it stands, students say, the Nike "swoosh" on UW apparel is tarnishing the school's reputation. It's enough, they say, to make Bucky Badger cry.

"If it doesn't happen, I guess we'll keep fighting, but I mean the pressure will be on," said student Jennifer Lee.

Chancellor Martin declined an interview Thursday. A spokesperson from her office said Martin will meet with the collegiate licensing policy committee Friday afternoon to decide the fate of the Nike contract.

The UW sold 500 licenses in 2009, making up less than 2 percent of its total revenue, according to the campus.

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