Update, 2:45 p.m.: According to the Make UT Sweatshop Free Coalition's Facebook group, all students have been released from jail. This afternoon, UT spokesman Gary Susswein said "Our position remains the sam as yesterday. The issue is closed."
Nineteen activists entered the President’s office Wednesday and began an afternoon-long protest that ended with UTPD arresting all protesters involved.
The protesters, 17 UT students and two non-UT students and all members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition, occupied the office in the Main Building starting at about 12:30-1:00 p.m. When UT Police Department Chief Robert Dahlstrom threatened the group with immediate arrest for disrupting office business and trespassing, the students relocated to the lobby, where they remained until UTPD arrested them for criminal trespassing when the office closed at 5:00 p.m. UTPD reports 19 students were arrested, although members of the group said there were 18 students involved.
Some of the protesters had been released from jail on bail by press time, according to the group’s Twitter account.
The coalition demanded that UT become a member of the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring organization, said group leader William G. Yates, an Asian studies senior who also serves as a regional coordinator for the nation-wide United Students Against Sweatshops.
“We demand that the University of Texas at Austin, in accordance with our own code of conduct and stated core values, have an honest, open discussion with our administration and affiliate with the Workers Rights Consortium, the only independent monitor for collegiate apparel,” Yates said. “We will be here till these demands are met.”
The University is currently a member of a different oversight organization, the Fair Labor Association, and has no intention of leaving the FLA or of joining the WRC, said University spokesman Gary Susswein. “The University is very comfortable in the FLA,” Susswein said. “What we hear from the FLA is that these factories are being monitored.”
Susswein said both the WRC and the FLA require an annual membership fee of $50,000. Joining the WRC would not be a responsible decision in a time when the University faces shrinking funding, he said.
“Our examination has determined that there is no added benefit and that in a time of budget austerity spending another $50,000 is a concern,” Susswein said. “The FLA is not the shallow, hollow organization that its critics would have you believe.”
The University generated $10.6 million in merchandise revenue in the 2011 fiscal year, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
“We can afford to pay our football coach $5,000,000 and we have 4,000 factories all over the world where workers rights are not conducted because of $50,000,” Yates said. “It shows a crisis of priorities for this university.”
Sisters Bianca, Sabina and Sophia Hinz-Foley were among those arrested. Bianca recently graduated from UT, Sabina is a Plan II junior and Sophia is a high school student. Sabina said Wednesday’s protest has the potential to stimulate the student body to act.
“Many students are not with us because they think they cannot put their academic careers at risk,” she said. “But this issue is galvanizing a lot of kids who think they can make a tangible, obvious improvement in the world.”
The Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition announced on their Facebook page that a rally will be held in front of the Tower today at noon.