Mischa Gaus

How To Deal With Social Media At Work

 This piece was originally published by Labor Notes. Come to the Labor Notes conference May 4-6 in Chicago, the biggest gathering of grassroots labor activists and all-around troublemakers out there! More than 100 workshops and meetings to ‘put the movement back in the labor movement.’ 

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How the Olympics Destroy Cities

You could see his lip curl, the beginning of a sneer. Mayor Richard M. Daley, head of Chicago's government for 18 years, was not pleased. His parade was getting rained on.

The U.S. Olympic Committee was in town, and the March weather was not cooperating. The suits were preparing to survey Washington Park, one of the proposed sites for the 2016 Olympics, on the city's south side.

The park, closed to the public for the VIP visit, had never been cleaner. No amount of preparation, though, would keep the visitors' feet from sinking into soggy turf.

It wasn't the image Daley wanted to project to the committee to help convince them to give the 2016 Summer Olympics to Chicago, and J.R. Fleming wasn't helping. A public-housing organizer and leader in an anti-Olympic coalition, he was yelling into a megaphone three feet away from Daley, Chicago Olympics Chief Patrick Ryan and National Olympic Committee members as they sat in a city bus, waiting to embark on their visit to Washington Park.

"Is the profit that important?" he taunted. "Don't bring the Olympics to Chicago. There's too much racial tension."

Despite Fleming's warnings, on April 14 the national committee announced that Chicago had beaten out Los Angeles as its candidate to host the 2016 Summer Games. Chicago will now compete against Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Tokyo and a handful of other cities in its quest to bring its first Olympics since 1904, when Chicago lost the games to St. Louis, which was hosting the World's Fair.

That is, unless Fleming and a growing band of doubters can convince the International Olympic Committee to take the games somewhere else. Much like the fairs of yesteryear, the Olympics has become a force unto itself, able to transform a city dramatically. The ambition to host the games fits the agenda of a city leadership enamored of gigantic, splashy projects and overweening power.

Until eight labor-backed insurgents settled last year's living-wage battle by unseating incumbents in the spring elections, the city had one gravitational pull -- City Hall's fifth floor, the mayor's office. Daley's grip on power has been so absolute he promised revenge in 1999 when five of the city's 50 aldermen voted against his pick for fire chief.

Daley's autocratic "leadership style" and the international Olympic industry match perfectly. Both prefer to make decisions behind closed doors, obscure their sordid histories, send budgets through the wash to achieve the desired result and build playgrounds for the rich.

What the Olympics hath wrought

The toll the Olympic industry takes on host cities is made worse because it's so predictable. Their destructive impact is documented in an extensive study of the seven most recent cities (Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London) chosen to host the Summer Games. It was released in June by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), based in Geneva, Switzerland.

The worst abuses COHRE documents have taken place under the most repressive regimes. Beijing will displace 1.5 million people to host the 2008 Games, as it doubles the already frenzied pace of its urban redevelopment. Often without notice, officials cut off electricity and water to convince residents to leave. If that's unsuccessful, garbage and sewage are allowed to pile up in entryways. Left without recourse, a few residents threatened suicide. Some succeed; others are arrested for creating public disturbances.

Beijing's brutality is hardly unique. COHRE details how South Korea's military dictatorship cleared out 720,000 people for the 1988 Seoul Games. Private security forces roamed the streets at night, using rape, beatings and arson to break community resistance.

But it doesn't take a one-party state to bring out the jackboots when the Olympics come to town. Atlanta gained notoriety among Olympic watchers when it declared the central business district a "sanitized corridor" and had police pre-print arrest citations, with the words "African-American," "Male," and "Homeless" already filled in. In the lead-up to the games the city arrested about 9,000 people, a "crime" that has significant implications because people with criminal records are not eligible for public housing. Some of the homeless were given one-way bus tickets out of town.

What mass-produced arrest citations and bulldozers don't accomplish the market's invisible hand usually does. Real-estate speculation and ballooning rents push out vulnerable populations with inescapable regularity. Barcelona, touted as the most successful recent games, registered a 240 percent increase in new house prices in the run-up to the Olympics.

In Chicago, the recent fate of public housing gives Fleming reason to fear the Olympics. "We've always called Mayor Daley Slobodan Milosevic," Fleming says. "The same thing is taking place -- except it's urban and economic cleansing. We're watching this city be re-segregated by forces of greed."

In 1999, Daley took back the Chicago Housing Authority from the federal government and subsequently destroyed entire blocks of the city's infamous public-housing towers, packing people off to shoddy rental units without tracking where those evicted went. If the relocation plan was next to nonexistent, the blueprint for the destroyed sites was all too clear. Townhouses starting at $500,000 now sit on the land that was once the infamous Cabrini-Green housing project.

Fleming and other housing advocates see the city's Olympic bid as a way to speed up gentrification on the city's mid-south side, the six mile gap between the middle-class island of Hyde Park and downtown. Between 2,500 and 6,000 condos and apartments would be converted from Daley's proposed 6,000-unit Olympic Village. No specifics have been released on what percentage will be affordable vs. market-rate, but Daley established a 10-percent rule in the affordable-housing law he pushed through the council in May. Using that as a guide suggests the games would net the city a whopping 600 affordable units at best, in a city where almost half of its 1.1 million households live in housing they cannot afford.

Who would be left to purchase the remaining thousands of market-rate condos that would flood the market following the games remains unclear. The Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois, which tracks real-estate transactions, says in each of the last three years between 800 and 1,100 were sold in the Loop.

Then things got messy

Toni Preckwinkle, the city councilor whose ward would absorb the Olympic Village, fought and lost a battle to raise the affordable housing rate to 15 percent. She says she will demand inclusion of the 15-percent rule, as well as provisions for hiring first among neighborhood residents, paying prevailing wages for construction work, and other requirements for community inclusion into the bid that Chicago will submit in September. Preckwinkle is assembling what's become known as a "Community-Benefits Agreement (CBA)," legally binding deals negotiated between developers and coalitions of local groups. Well-designed agreements are typically written into the contracts that developers sign with cities.

But some southside community leaders say Preckwinkle began discussions with bid officials before consulting neighborhood groups. They include the housing-rights group, Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP), and the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), the largest grassroots group in the neighborhoods that bridge the four miles between the proposed Olympic Village and Washington Park. Neither Preckwinkle nor the bid committee have brought their plans before community groups, although KOCO Director Jay Travis says that bid officials visited a neighborhood meeting in May and apologized for their lack of transparency. "You don't really see a sincere attempt to remedy this sort of clandestine planning," she says.

The indifference the city and Olympic boosters have shown toward the people affected by their plans is troubling to Greg LeRoy, director of Good Jobs First, a national group that backs community-benefits agreements. LeRoy says no CBA worthy of the name scurries from public scrutiny.

"If it's completely top-down and secret, it's P.R.," LeRoy says. "If they didn't sit down and ask anybody, how do they know those are the real issues?"

A test case of how CBAs can go wrong is New York City's Atlantic Yards development. The developer of the massive basketball arena-cum-highrise project in Brooklyn went behind closed doors with the anti-poverty group ACORN to sign a "historic" deal. Two years later, its terms keep getting worse. (Since signatories to CBAs are obligated to support them, ACORN still approves of the agreement even though the percentage and definition of affordable housing continues to shrink.)

Forest City Ratner, the Atlantic Yards' development firm, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to other signatories, many of which were created just in time to approve the deal. Ratner's pet groups had black leaders, while existing community groups -- many with white leadership -- were shut out. Consequently, many neighborhood groups now view CBAs as a slick divide-and-conquer tool of real-estate interests.

"What's truly astonishing is that people don't even realize this particular script has been played again and again," says Patti Hagan of Prospect Heights Action Coalition, which agitates against the Atlantic Yards project. "They're being led around by the promise of a little bit of money."

Ebonee Stevenson, a leader in Chicago's fledgling Olympic CBA coalition, says the best CBAs are backed by heavyweights, like a central labor council, that can transcend petty neighborhood concerns. That leaves Chicago in a Catch-22, because unions have told Stevenson's group they're waiting until the Olympics look certain.

Olympic activists elsewhere say that's too late, because once the games are secured dissent is equated with treason, and leverage disappears.

"They'll bring out athletes with flowers in their hair," says Chris Shaw, a leader of 2010 Watch, based in Vancouver, which will host the Winter Games in 2010. "If you can't shift the frame you're fighting Santa Claus and motherhood."

Beyond the opaque approach to community involvement are more difficult questions. Applying community-benefits agreements only make sense if the sports development is actually going to bring economic benefits, says Chris Van Dyk, leader of Citizens for More Important Things, which has campaigned successfully against sport subsidies in the Seattle region. "The only thing to ask for is that they pay their own way, like any small business," he says.

Olympic critics doubt the community-benefit model can be easily adapted to a political environment sticky with sweetheart deals between both local and international actors. "The Olympics can't be reformed or changed or made into the thing you want it to be," Shaw says. "We're seeing a re-growth of activism in our poorest neighborhoods where people are realizing they got totally suckered by the people they trusted to watch out for their interests."

The COHRE report on the social impact of Olympic Games lauded Vancouver for signing multiple binding commitments protecting environment, housing and civil rights. But three years before the city's games, watchdog groups say the promises are melting away. Vancouver's Impact on Community Coalition gave the city's Olympic organizers a "D-" grade in a May report card, noting a rise in evictions, preference for destroying forests, and resistance to opening its books and meetings.

They make money, right?

In Chicago, boosters argue that Olympic construction, tourism and spillover business will bring relief to the city's long-suffering south side. Experience teaches a different lesson.

Lake Forest College sports economist Robert Baade mulched a mountain of data after the Atlanta Olympics, revealing that the city and state could actually have lost jobs in the long-term, because Olympic mania captured public and private dollars that could have had more sustained economic impact. (Forty percent of Games-related jobs vanished after the two-week party left town.)

"I'm not against the games per se, but don't try to sell it as an economic bonanza," Baade says. "Prior to a mega-event, people tend to stay away. Prices for virtually everything are higher than they otherwise would be. And we know from research around the world that residents leave a city hosting a mega-event. They take their money and spend it elsewhere."

And University of South Florida economist Philip Porter discovered that in Atlanta the kind of tourist income games backers always promise didn't materialize. Hotel vacancies, retail sales, and airport use all stayed essentially the same despite the Olympics. Since the surplus rarely materializes, debt surely follows.

Olympic committees fix their budgets by deleting the costs of infrastructure projects from their balance sheets, because keeping them in makes the games look like not such a great deal. Recent host cities have woken up after the games with wretched hangovers. Athens is swimming in $9 billion of debt, Sydney took on $3.2 billion, and the vaunted Barcelona Games stuck taxpayers with a $1.4 billion tab. The 2012 London Games has already spent twice its budget, and estimates for Beijing's bonanza come in around $40 billion.

Still, these big projects create the "legacy" used to entice otherwise reluctant groups to support Olympic bids. Bigger airports, convention centers, cultural facilities, new roads and trains are the usual mix of enticements. Best of all for developers, the International Olympic Committee's unforgiving deadlines create an artificial rush to build, pushing social and environmental assessments to the wayside.

City leaders have promised the Olympics will bring Chicago its first new train line in two decades, a long-coveted circle line to connect the radial spokes that emanate from downtown. But the route favored by the Daley administration ignores the wide swaths of Chicago's west and south sides without train service. Known as the "yuppie line" among transit activists, it is the buckle in the Daley administration's belt of gentrifying neighborhoods circling downtown.

Helen Jefferson Lenskyj, a University of Toronto sociologist who has written three books on the Olympics, says games-related development projects stomp on democratic rights. "Citizens may not have wanted it right there, at that site, at that time," she says. "They may have had different priorities but they had to pay up."

Allowing something as important as the Olympics to come before the voters would break with Daley's legacy of government by fiat. Five years ago, when Soldier Field, home to the Bears football franchise, was renovated at a cost of $632 million, taxpayers kicked in two- thirds of the renovation's cost, but weren't granted a referendum to voice their opinion on the matter.

The renovation gutted the stadium, built in 1924, landing what appears to be an alien craft atop its neoclassical colonnades. Those were left intact because tearing down the entire stadium would have required a public vote, says University of Chicago sports economist Allen Sanderson.

"The sense was, 'If we go to a referendum we might lose," he says, "so let's take a half loaf instead of no loaf.' "

But the renovation proved shortsighted. Because the new Solider Field cannot accommodate the 80,000 seats needed to host an Olympics, the city will be forced to finance a "temporary" stadium. Early official estimates have put its cost at $366 million, but that number is considered so low they've been forced to stipulate that the cost could rise due to inflation.

Capital, altius, fortius

The games provide the kind of grand excuse dreamed of by the interests who hold Daley close to recast the city in their image -- they couldn't be happier. The Olympics would boost business-service providers that, according to Dick Simpson, a former alderman who researches city politics at the University of Illinois-Chicago, have steadily increased their campaign contributions during Daley's reign.

The other local winner would be developers, one of whom complained to the Chicago Sun-Times that the neighborhood, a majority African-American community with one of the city's lowest per-capita income rates, had no "pet service providers."

What the Olympics could do to other public services is reason enough to oppose them, says James Pfluecke, an organizer with the Coalition to Protect Public Housing. "It's going to drain every penny from every corner," he says.

Besides starving out other services, hosting the Olympics leaves a city with a flotilla of white elephants. Within months of the 2000 Games, one of Sydney's privately financed stadiums needed $20 million in public money to rejuvenate the stadium area, which by virtue of its distance from central Sydney is losing out to the old stadium complex. Montreal, host to the 1976 Games, converted its velodrome -- a circular track for bicycle racing -- into a biosphere, not exactly residents' first development priority. As the games grow ever larger, they demand more extensive and specialized accommodations that have little post-Game public use.

"I've been able to restrain the urge to go luging," says Steve Pace, who led an Olympic watchdog group in Salt Lake City in the '90s. "So have 99.5 percent of the state's residents."

The air of inevitability isn't as thick as games boosters would have you believe. In an anti-sprawl mood, Colorado voters rejected the 1976 Denver Winter Games after it was awarded them. Local opposition in Toronto, Berlin and Nagoya, Japan, is credited with preventing the Olympics from landing on those cities.

Not that the International Olympic Committee would admit it. The IOC's official report after being greeted by 15,000 angry Berliners declared that "whilst vocal opposition to the bid exists, this is a minority group."

Arrogance and executive fiat aren't gong to quell Chicago's Olympic doubters. While the battle is just beginning, the resistance is already starting to stiffen.

"Given the power around the table," says Ebonee Stevenson, "words mean nothing."

A Generation of Debtors Grow Up Owing

The children of baby boomers are the new debtor class. Buckling under a heavy weight of debt, new workers step into an economy of low-wage and contingent work, a combination that makes the basics of adulthood increasingly unattainable.

"We grew up in the Regan era where everything was fake, voodoo economics, and we're not seeing the connections," says Anya Kamenetz, author of Generation Debt: Why Now Is a Terrible Time to be Young. "I don't think we can continue treating people as disposable, not providing them with health care or the means to save."

Educational debt is the most visible -- but not the only -- barrier to the well-being of the "millennial generation," roughly defined as Americans born after 1978. Every gate on the way to middle-class life is now tougher to unlock. Mortgages, health insurance expenses, car maintenance, child care and tax loads for two-income families have all ballooned.

The accumulating stress on this generation is spilling over -- not yet into the street, as it did in France in late March, but into some emerging forms of collective action.

Owing 'til you're old and gray

The familiar combination of summer work, a part-time job during the school year and a little help from home doesn't begin to cover today's college costs. To afford one year at a public university, about $11,000, students earning minimum wage would have to work full-time year-round.

"Students are in a pretty deep financial hole," says Luke Swarthout, higher education associate for the State PIRGs, which advocate on a variety of consumer, environmental and good-government issues. The Federal Reserve says graduates now shoulder three times more debt than a decade ago, after adjusting for inflation. Undergraduates now average almost $20,000 in debt, with a quarter taking on more than $25,000, according to Robert Shireman, director of the Project on Student Debt, a Berkeley-based think tank.

"They end up still paying off their loans about the time when they're figuring out how to help with their own children's education," Shireman says. Some never emerge from their chasm of liabilities. The Supreme Court recently decided that retirees' Social Security checks can be garnished for old student debts, and changes to bankruptcy law last year make it nearly impossible to discharge educational loans.

For students who approach their working lives seeking returns beyond pure remuneration, rising debt loads postpone basic decisions. Pam Morus, 29, spends about 10 percent of her income every month keeping up with $35,000 in student loans. A music therapist in Chicago, she received no grants during her five-year program at Eastern Michigan University. She'd like to purchase a home and start a family soon, but unless she finds a partner who brings in significantly more income, it is impossible. "I barely make enough money to pay my rent," she says.

Even with a scholarship to American University's law school, Julia Graff, 28, started her career as a staff attorney at the Delaware ACLU last year facing $80,000 in debt. She anticipates paying lenders until she retires. Graff knew her ambition to pursue a nonprofit career meant she would forgo luxuries. But her debt-to-income ratio means trips to university dental clinics and taking on odd jobs like tutoring and translating Spanish.

"I live paycheck to paycheck," Graff says. "Eventually I'm not going to want to live like I did when I was 18."

And when lives don't match up with debt schedules, the strain can be severe. After finishing community college, Mandy Minor, 30, bounced around the University of South Florida before settling on business administration. She graduated five years ago, picking up $60,000 in consumer and student debt along with her diploma.

Minor owns a small writing and design firm with her husband, and had a daughter five months ago. She pays $400 a month just to maintain her debt load, and has given up on buying a house. She worries how to provide health insurance once her daughter no longer qualifies for Florida's state-provided care.

"It bothers me on a fundamental level that we even have to worry a little about how our daughter will receive medical care," she says. "It sickens me, and I know I'm not alone."

Minor says some of her credit-card bills predate her college years. "I think sending high school students offers of credit should be illegal," she says. Taken together, such individual struggles illuminate the consequences of punitive political decisions. After all, student debt is intimately linked to government actions, like Congress' decision to boost interest rates to 6.8 percent for undergraduate Stafford loans, both new and old.

Ensuring economic security is not solely an issue of self-interest for young people. Because higher education remains the most important factor for predicting economic success -- and thus an opportunity to bridge inequality -- it is a social justice concern as well.

Last year, Yale students held a sit-in to demand financial aid reform. Within a week, they won a pledge from the university that families making less than $45,000 would no longer pay tuition. Yale was just catching up: The Ivies have embarked on a game of financial-aid chicken, fighting to see who can boost higher the amount families can earn before footing college costs. Currently, that figure stands at $50,000 at the University of Pennsylvania and $60,000 at Harvard.

Struggling for a living wage

Once they've graduated, however, what really staggers young people is a one-two punch: saddled with loans, students have a hard time finding a stable job that will actually support them. Steady productivity gains have been swallowed by capital, stagnating wages for young people. A Federal Reserve survey says the median net worth of households under 35 rose just 1.3 percent in the last decade after inflation.

"Management has pulled a fast one," says Kamenetz. "They've gotten people to accept intangible benefits instead of old, actual benefits. We've all sort of followed this idea that we're all free agents." Flexibility and contingent labor have replaced the certainty of bargaining agreements and pensions. And contrary to media narratives about consumers run amok, foolish spending is not the root of most families' financial problems, writes Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren in her book, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke. Credit card bills are higher now, but consumer spending between this generation and the last balances out -- for instance, as more is spent on airline tickets, less is spent on tobacco.

So where do young people turn to confront their economic plight? They are channeling some energy into workplace organizing. Retail workers at Borders and Starbucks have employed minority unionism, which initially doesn't seek contracts or bargaining units but builds a base of power through action by less than half the workers. Workers across the country trade information about corporate policies online, coordinating efforts between stores and sniping at overpaid executives.

The underlying model is nothing new: Unions like United Farm Workers have used it for decades. But it could fit young people in hard-to-organize retail work, says Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University.

"Young people don't feel as vulnerable as older workers because they're not going to be in this job forever," she says. "They are more willing to take risks."

Minority unionism could challenge giant chain stores, she says, if unions commit to long campaigns and follow a social-unionism approach that brings the community behind the drive. The storybook example is the L.A. Justice for Janitors Campaign, which in the early '90s saw the flowering of a community-union partnership that placed moral concerns alongside economic ones. However, these are difficult, expensive campaigns in high-turnover jobs exceed the reach of any sympathetic union local. Critics see minority unionism as a half-cocked attempt to engage young workers.

"We had industrial unions when we had industrial manufacturing. Now we have a new way of working that is much more short-term and mobile," says Sara Horowitz, president of Working Today, a New York-based advocacy group that provides insurance and other benefits for contingent -- and often young -- laborers. "Unions have evolved since the days of Moses and Exodus, and there's no reason to think they're not going to evolve again."

Working Today counts 16,000 contingent workers in its ranks. Although its benefits are limited to workers in New York, it lobbies nationally to fill gaps like health care and retirement savings for the 30 percent of the workforce it estimates work independently.

Millennials are also warming to another old tactic for addressing their grievances. They are increasingly appearing at the polls, with half of voters under 30 turning out in 2004, their largest showing in 14 years. Sustaining this interest, though, would require reversing a long-standing trend: Youth voting rates have been declining since 1972.

The emerging generation's beliefs could offer an opportunity for reshaping the political discourse. Recent studies by the liberal New Politics Institute and a University of Maryland public policy center suggest millennials are more likely to identify as progressive than any other age group.

But unless they find political avenues to channel their discontent, they may soon find themselves screaming in the streets like their French counterparts. "They have different lives than their parents did, a different set of economic opportunities," Horowitz says. "It's time for them to talk about what they need."

The Maturing Movement Against Sweatshops

Student anti-sweatshop activism has come of age. Exercising substantial sway over corporate giants, it has helped overseas garment workers make unprecedented gains. But with many battles looming, some activists worry their momentum has peaked.

The signing of a collective bargaining agreement last March at the BJ&B hat factory in a Dominican Republic free-trade zone was particularly sweet for student campaigners. The illegal firing of union loyalists and grisly working conditions that came to light seven years ago at the factory launched the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), the force behind campus labor activism. It in turn helped establish the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), an independent factory-monitoring group whose investigation spurred the resolution at BJ&B.

For the Dominican factory's nearly 1,600 workers -- the largest unionized free-trade zone factory in the Americas -- the contract brings a wage above the country's paltry minimum, college scholarships and other unparalleled benefits.

The BJ&B victory is exemplary, according to anti-corporate student activists, because without the intervention of the Fair Labor Association, the WRC's more corporate-friendly doppelganger, and pressure from Nike and Reebok, workers at BJ&B would still be fighting harassment and summary firings.

Cooperation is the new watchword among students, monitoring groups and corporations. "We have a preference for cooperation because it leads to action more quickly," says Scott Nova, executive director of the WRC. He notes that the group's quiet intervention in two Indonesian factories recently prompted corporations to comply with health-benefit laws and to open the door to independent unions there.

"We don't cooperate at the expense of independent analysis and candid assessment," Nova says. "Cooperation is a means to an end, which is respecting workers rights."

Students maintain that their dealings with corporations are a relationship of convenience. When brands fail to act, students work as the enforcement arm of the WRC, a role where their reputation precedes them.

"Corporations realized that organizations like USAS can hit them where it hurts most, in their public image," says Megan Murphy, an anti-sweatshop activist and sophomore at Georgetown University.

The WRC has conducted 15 investigations in three years of operation. Most brands have accepted its evenhanded assessments of transgressions, while students and NGO partners on its board of directors keep the group honest. It has been a successful formula.

"The WRC isn't out there to kick brands around or destroy their business," says Ben McKean, a USAS national organizer. At the same time, "they know as a business decision it's cheaper to make the changes the WRC is asking for. They know we have the power to kick their ass."

Not every brand has learned that lesson. Collegiate apparel is a small fraction of the global garment industry, and while students wield the most power over brands dependent on college business, they are starting to lean on mass-market companies.

A developing campaign against Land's End is at the heart of this trend. The company embroiders collegiate logos onto its clothes, a specialty practice aimed at alumni. But the company's glacial pace in resolving the rampant blacklisting of unionists at the Primo factory in El Salvador's San Bartolo free-trade zone led Columbia University to cut its contract last November with Land's End.

As pressure builds, the company's attitude is changing. Judi Nitsch, an Indiana University graduate student and member of her school's worker rights committee, says after her committee threatened to cut the contract, Land's End admitted their third-party inquiry misrepresented the situation and promised remediation. A Land's End spokeswoman says the company is preparing a corrective plan, and declined further comment, pending an investigation.

In addition to targeting more diverse brands, anti-sweatshop campaigners are pushing campus worker rights committees to force corporate disclosure of factory wages.

Organizers expect a difficult battle, but their success in securing the release of factory locations three years ago emboldens them. Transparency in wages, they say, is the first step to raising the pay floor. "In some cases, getting companies to pay minimum wage would be progress -- that's how bad the industry is," McKean says.

With the United States negotiating bilateral trade deals that weaken worker protections and with the Multi-Fiber Agreement -- a World Trade Organization textile-quota system -- expiring this year, industry observers predict garment production will flee to China and other countries with feeble civil societies and anti-union laws.

To combat these moves, says Nova, "we are going to make this debate about more than respect for rights in the workplace. If we are to see sustainable improvements in worker rights, buyers need to stick by and support those factories when they make improvements."

Mischa Gaus is a freelance writer based in Chicago.

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