Kenneth Miller wants the Pittsburgh Pirates to help prevent the use of sweatshops to manufacture Major League Baseball apparel - by making a commitment to keep using sweatshops.
Miller, a founding member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Sweatshop Community Alliance (PASCA), met with Pirates officials on April 11 to explain this seeming paradox.
"We're looking to improve [textile factory] conditions where the work is," Miller says. "These people need their jobs. There are no other opportunities available. What these workers are asking for is the opportunity to form labor unions." Having influenced the Pirates to stop using a Honduran factory in past years only to see it close rather than improve, Miller says, has taught the group a different strategy. "Let's make a commitment to these sweatshops for a few years to let them prosper," he says.
Prosper with independent monitoring, he adds. PASCA is hoping multi-year commitments from major sports teams can prompt factories to agree to certain conditions, such as hiring back labor organizers, improving facilities for worker safety and comfort (unlocking bathrooms, for instance) and allowing workers to submit complaints to management legally.
Patty Paytas, Pirates spokesperson, says the meeting has started the team talking to MLB officials about addressing PASCA's concerns.
Four years ago, he and three other PASCA members were arrested on charges of defiant trespass for protesting outside a Pirates game. The Pirates meeting is one indication that the group's prospects have improved, says Miller, a 31-year-old part-time substitute teacher and activist from Point Breeze.
But, he cautions, "The global apparel industry is filled with abuses." There are no "sweat-free" options today.
Particularly troubling, he adds, is the expiration at the end of 2004 of an international agreement that allowed Third World factories to manufacture and assemble garments for U.S. consumption as long as they were made with American or Canadian parts. Now, places like Bangladesh, which were helped by the agreement, will be losing more jobs to China, where textiles workers have the fewest rights and lowest wages. PASCA and similar anti-sweatshop groups are asking universities and major-league sports teams "to freeze the work where it is," says Miller. "I think we're closer now than we've ever been."
On May 1, the international workers' holiday of May Day, PASCA members will be talking to Pirates fans outside stadium about making sports-fan apparel choices a little more "sweat-free." They'll be passing out their latest edition of Major League Sweatshop Baseball Cards. The group knows they'll have gotten their message through to the fans, Miller says, "when we can see baseball fans [trading] the cards back and forth."