Nike on Trial in its Hometown: Portland Community Leaders Call for Fairness after Hearing

Portland WRB - Board members

Dr. Martin Hart-Landsberg, Chair of the Workers' Rights Board, address the crowd.

The Nike Truth Tour has made it to Portland after its cross-country journey!  Last night, just a few miles from Nike’s global headquarters, the Portland Area Workers’ Rights Board held a “Hearing on Nike Labor Practices in Honduras.”  The independent board of community leaders, along with a packed room of over 100 community members, heard from two factory workers who sewed Nike apparel for years.  The workers who testified, Lowlee Urquía and Gina Cano, represent 1700 workers left jobless at Nike’s Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex plants.

» See TV news coverage: KGW News Channel 8

The board also heard testimony from renowned anti-sweatshop expert Jeff Ballinger, as well as Mariah Thompson, a student at the University of Oregon.  Thompson explained how former Nike CEO Phil Knight had threatened to pull $30 million in donations to the public university if it required companies making the university’s apparel to adhere to basic worker rights standards.  To this day, the Oregon state university system has a rule explicitly preventing any worker rights standards to be placed on college apparel suppliers like Nike.

Portland WRB - Lowlee

Lowlee Urquía, who sewed Nike apparel at the Vision Tex factory in Honduras, testifies to the Portland Area Workers' Rights Board

After the hearing, the board issued findings that admonish Nike to ensure workers get all the money they are legally owed, and to re-employ workers in Nike’s supplier factories:

In light of the fact that Nike apparel represented an overwhelming majority of production at both plants (Hugger and Vision Tex); and Nike’s code of conduct asserts that the company “binds” its contractors to specific standards, including providing all its workers with legally mandated benefits; the Portland Area Workers’ Rights Board recommends that Nike take responsibility to ensure the workers of Nike’s sub-contracted Hugger de Honduras and Vision Tex plants are paid what they are legally owed in health care benefits, wages, and severance payments; and Nike actively assist the workers to find new employment in their Honduran supplier factories.

The board plans to share these recommendations directly with Nike, and will be issuing a formal report on its findings to continue educating the public.

Nike was invited to testify at the hearing, but declined.  In a letter to the Workers’ Rights Board, Nike representative Caitlin Morris wrote:

While we appreciate the offer to engage at your event, an open hearing where Nike has been asked to testify is not the most effective forum for constructive dialogue.

Urquía and Cano have been traversing the country with USAS organizers since late March.  The tour is part of USAS’ Just Pay It campaign, supporting the workers’ demand for the $2.2 million owed to them by Nike in legally mandated severance payment.

» See also: Portland Jobs With Justice’s report on the Workers’ Rights Board hearing

About the Author

Jack Mahoney is a National Organizer for USAS. Jack coordinates our campaigns in solidarity with campus workers, along with various other duties. He graduated in 2008 from Georgetown University, where as a USAS member he organized with campus janitors for a landmark union victory for living wages.