MADISON, Wis. (AP) — University of Wisconsin-Madison has canceled a licensing contract with New Era Cap Co., citing allegations of discrimination and anti-union activity at one of its factories.
The action is part of a growing national movement to get the company, the exclusive cap supplier for Major League Baseball teams, to improve its labor practices at a distribution center in Mobile, Ala.
The NAACP released a report Monday accusing the company of paying black workers less than whites, passing minorities over for promotions and firing employees involved in organizing workers. The Buffalo, N.Y.-based company called the allegations baseless.
At a news conference in Washington, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Chair Julian Bond and Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa called on Major League Baseball leaders to pressure the company to stop the practices. They both praised UW-Madison's action.
''New Era should take note of that,'' Hoffa told reporters. ''This could spread to a number of universities and other places where caps are supplied.''
New Era CEO Christopher Koch said he was disappointed by the move, which is the first time a university has canceled a contract over the allegations.
''We had hoped they would wait to ... see what all the facts are. There's been one side of the story out here, and it's unfortunate they've decided to take action like this,'' he said. ''With Wisconsin making this move, there could be others that follow and that's a big concern.''
UW-Madison ended the contract in part because the company refused to allow its monitoring group, the Worker Rights Consortium, into the factory to investigate the claims.
The university's code of conduct requires companies who use the university's name or logos for products to cooperate with such investigations and meet requirements for wages, hours and other working conditions. The code aims to ensure apparel is manufactured free of sweatshop-like conditions.
''We decided that New Era is just not a company that we want to continue to do business with,'' said Dawn Crim, an aide to UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley.
She said the university received similar allegations of abusive practices in 2002 but allowed the company to stay on board after problems were resolved. That history also played a role in the decision, she said.
The company made Wisconsin knit caps under the license, which generated more than $8,000 in royalties for the university last year, Crim said.
Koch said his company has more lucrative relationships with other universities but the loss will still hurt.
Chynna Haas, a UW-Madison sophomore and member of United Students Against Sweatshops, said she hopes the action will prompt other colleges and Major League Baseball to pressure the company to reform its practices.
''It sends a strong message to New Era that you need to respect your workers and you have to stop the racism at the facility,'' said Haas, who traveled to meet with affected workers earlier this month.
Scott Nova, executive director the of Worker Rights Consortium, said New Era refused to allow the WRC inside the factory and wanted a different inspector even though UW-Madison and other schools designated the group as its monitor.
New Era spokeswoman Dana Marciniak said the allegations were made by the Teamsters to score a public relations victory during contentious negotiations for a contract covering workers who voted last summer to unionize.
She also questioned whether the Worker Rights Consortium could conduct an unbiased investigation.