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Help workers,

here and abroad

On April 24, the Rana Plaza building – which housed six garment factories – crumbled to pieces in Bangladesh. The day before the collapse, managers told the workers that they would lose a month's pay if they did not report to work, even though the building had giant cracks. As a result, thousands of workers entered the building and were trapped inside when it crumbled. Rescue teams rescued 2,438 people and discovered 1,127 dead bodies.

A major garment purchaser, New York State spends $43 million a year on apparel, including public uniforms. The New York State law requires the government to buy its apparel from the lowest responsible bidder, but current standards are too low. "Subsidizing Sweatshops II," a report put out by International Labor Rights Forum's Sweatfree Communities, reported that factories supplying New York State apparel had instances of child labor use, limited bathroom breaks, dangerous working conditions, and mandated unpaid overtime. I urge Governor Cuomo to implement a Sweatfree Code of Conduct that would require these factories to respect workers' rights and ensure safe working conditions.

This policy would make exemplary factories competitive in the bidding process while elevating conditions in sweatshop-like factories. The current global economy favors countries with the lowest wages, weakest workplaces safety laws, and toughest repression of unions. This race to the bottom has caused an exodus of the garment industry from the US. Between 1990 and 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that over 750,000 American apparel workers were laid off.

I worked for over 30 years in the garment industry at Don Alleson Athletic in Geneva, New York. I worked in the cutting room as a spreader-cutter, preparing the material to be sewn into garments. I was paid a decent wage and received good benefits. It saddened me to see the factory at which I had worked so long downsized because it could not compete with the low wages in other countries. The Code of Conduct would support higher standards that level the playing field for garment workers and support worker organizing around the world.

New York State must implement a Code of Conduct to ensure that public dollars support the improvement of factory conditions rather than subsidizing lethal working conditions. With the deaths at Rana Plaza and Tazreen Fashions fresh in our minds, the time has come for New Yorkers to declare that these deadly conditions are not moral. Workers should not have to die for government-made apparel or for any apparel.


Sobczak is secretary-treasurer of Workers United-Rochester Regional Joint Board.

Bees' demise

Europe has banned neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been linked to the loss of bees. Why not in the US –now? If we wait, we could be too late.


On children

and protests

Fifty years ago, on May 2, 1963, more than 1,000 African-American students marched into downtown Birmingham, and scores were arrested. When hundreds more gathered the following day, the local police and fire departments were directed to use force to halt the demonstrations.

Images of children being blasted by high-pressure fire hoses, clubbed by police officers, and attacked by police dogs were viewed on television and in newspapers, triggering international outrage. Martin Luther King offered encouragement to parents of the young protesters: ''Don't worry about your children, they're going to be alright. Don't hold them back if they want to go to jail. For they are doing a job for not only themselves, but for all of America and for all mankind.''

Children were marching in what was known as "The Children's Crusade" to protest Birmingham's system of segregation by putting pressure on its merchants for their role. Meanwhile, business was faltering in the city due to the adverse publicity and pressure of the boycott. On May 10, the Birmingham Truce Agreement was signed. The power of children and parents for justice!

Today, students supported by their parents have made conscious decisions to opt out of the unjust, unproven Common Core tests foisted upon them by the likes of the business community through the bankroll of Bill Gates and Achieve. The tests have no basis in research and have no evidence that they have any value whatsoever. Our children are being used as guinea pigs and as tools to shut down urban neighborhood schools, fire experienced teachers, and break unions, enabling the hiring of low-cost, unqualified (cheap) teacher surrogates.

Once again, urban children of poverty shoulder the burden of these machinations by being herded into the remaining failing, overcrowded schools and being given an austere, barren curriculum of incessant test drilling that saps the life and joy out of learning.

Yet parents are being attacked in editorials for using their children for adult purposes. Quite ironic to say the least, as it's the corporate adults who are abusing our children to achieve their ends. Talk to child psychologists to understand the depth of the abuse, as I have. Children vomiting, not sleeping, fear of failure to the point of illness: the list goes on.

This testing cycle, a Bethlehem, New York, fourth grader was presented a math test in his hospital bed as he was being prepared for brain surgery.

It's time to stop vilifying parents. It's time for schools to stop punishing children for not taking tests that will not ameliorate public education but rather erode it further. It is time to celebrate the courage of their convictions and remember the wisdom of Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win."


Cala is former superintendent of the Fairport school district and served as interim superintendent of the Rochester school district.