Activists to Watch: Teresa Cheng

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Teresa Cheng (left) picketing outside a Verizon store in Washington, DC, in support of Verizon workers on strike.

Teresa Cheng, now 26, first became involved in labor rights activism at the University of Southern California, where she led an anti-sweatshop campaign that culminated in the occupation of the university president’s office. As a national organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), she trained and coordinated a network of student labor organizations across the country that waged several successful campaigns in solidarity with unions to demand that global corporations respect workers’ rights.

One of Cheng’s first efforts was to mobilize a national campaign to pressure Russell Athletics, which produces college-licensed apparel, to rehire 1,200 Honduran workers who it had fired after they voted to unionize. USAS also picketed the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals in Orlando, Fla., and Los Angeles to protest the NBA’s licensing agreement with Russell. In addition, students distributed leaflets inside Sports Authority stores and sent Twitter messages to customers of the Dick’s Sporting Goods chain, urging them to boycott Russell products. Cheng helped arrange a letter, signed by 65 members of Congress, that voiced “grave concern about reports of severe violations” of workers’ rights at Russell. Russell agreed to rehire the workers and open a new plant in Honduras as a unionized factory and also pledged not to fight efforts by workers to unionize at the company’s seven other factories in the country. Working through USAS, Cheng helped mobilize student activists on about 100 campuses to persuade their universities to sever licensing agreements with Russell.

Following her tenure at USAS, she lived in Honduras, working with the Central General de Trabajadores national trade union to forge a global alliance of workers at Adidas contract factories. A dozen garment worker unions, from Honduras to Bangladesh, have now formed the International Union League for Brand Responsibility, demanding that German sportswear giant Adidas bargain directly with the subcontracted workers who sew its products and guarantee living wages, safe factories and stable jobs. This month the campaign heated up, with Adidas contract factory workers staging coordinated protests from Jakarta to Bangalore to San Salvador.

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