UNITE HERE: boycott the eagle

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

American Eagle protest

Photo courtesy (CUP) Stephen Davis/McGill Daily

DIDN’T YOUR MOTHER EVER TEACH YOU NOT TO “SQUAWK” BACK? Students at McGill University and other campuses in Canada are taking issue with American Eagle Outfitters due to its distribution plant’s anti-union policy.

American Eagle is usually known for casual campus clothes and fresh-faced models, but a campaign spreading throughout North American universities aims to make students think again.

International labour union UNITE HERE launched the American Vulture campaign to boycott American Eagle Outfitters for its failure to impose the AEO Code of Conduct on its Canadian distributors.

Several Canadian university student unions, including those at McGill University, Ryerson University, York University, and University of Toronto Mississauga, are supporting the boycott, as well as the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students.

UNITE HERE alleges employees at National Logistics Services (NLS) " AEO’s Canadian distribution company " faced intimidating anti-union propaganda when they attempted to unionize last April.

“NLS made people scared for their jobs if they didn’t go along with the company’s desire to reject a union,” Nell Geiser, American Vulture’s campaign coordinator, explained.

“We want to ensure that [AEO’s] distribution centre workers are free to join a union without intimidation and harassment.”

Geiser said this is AEO’s responsibility because its Code of Conduct ensures workers’ basic rights.

Alex Dagg, the Canadian co-director of UNITE HERE, is excited about student support for the campaign, since he sees students as AEO’s target demographic.

Geiser shared Dagg’s enthusiasm: “The most important thing here is to show students are willing to take action by writing letters to the company and generally raising awareness.”

Geiser noted students have been holding protests in front of the AEO flagship store in Montreal.

On Oct. 9, the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) passed a motion proposed by the GrassRoots Association for Student Power (GRASPé) to support the AEO boycott, according to SSMU President Jake Itzkowitz.

Though GRASPé was involved in the Montreal protests, Itzkowitz noted most students have been unreceptive to the initiative. He added the motion does not call on SSMU to take any concrete action.

Jani Strand, AEO’s vice-president of corporate communications, said UNITE HERE is manipulating the facts.

“Overall, it’s very unfortunate AEO is the target of this campaign against NLS,” Strand said.

Strand explained NLS employees voted overwhelmingly against unionizing, and it would be inappropriate for AEO to question their decision.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) is already involved in the matter, Strand noted.

“The Canadian government has an organization whose function is to look at these things from an objective point of view ... [AEO is] confident with its ability to make a decision,” Strand said.

Geiser stressed AEO is ultimately the responsible party.

“We’ve certainly challenged the practices of NLS by bringing a complaint to the OLRB [and] we’re taking all possible legal action there ... but in order to really raise this issue, more must be done,” Geiser said.

It appears Western has yet to decide whether to support the AEO boycott.

University Students’ Council President Tom Stevenson had not learned of the American Vulture campaign.

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