Big Step Forward for Sweatfree DC; DC Councilmember Mary Cheh Shows Support!

Over the past year, ILRF, SEIU 32BJ, LiUNA, Carpenters Union and many others have been working to get the DC City Council to adopt responsible contracting language as part of the procurement overhaul that is moving through the legislative process.  In particular there have been conversations focused on DC govt adopting a “sweatfree” procurement policy and joining the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium. This is vital because it ensures that all DC contracts and vendors, and subsequently workers who are paid with DC tax dollars, are to be done under fair labor conditions. The ILRF’s main focus in this process is the Sweatfree DC campaign and making sure that sourced garment and apparel, used in the city for uniforms, are not being made under poor labor conditions. There have been a couple of instances, specifically with the brand Dickies, where researchers found sweatshop labor in factories used to make apparel products later sold to government. This legislation would be key in obtaining fair working conditions for workers not only in the District, but also abroad as well. It would assist in creating a larger market and demand for goods make under fair labor conditions.

In addition to our meeting today with Councilmember Mary Cheh to discuss the progress and details of the bill, past meetings with other council offices included Harry Thomas, Jr., Kwame R. Brown, Marion Barry, and Tommy Wells.  Cheh’s meeting was particularly important because she is the chairperson of the committee that is responsible for whether or not this initiative is included in any legislation. Much to everybody’s satisfaction, Cheh announced that she was currently working on the bill and is committed to the issue. ILRF, SEIU and LiUNA also presented Mary Cheh with over 2,000 postcards signed from DC constituents that showed support for this proposal.

Some of the details to be included within the bill were discussed, including how and to what degree bad contractors and suppliers would be eliminated. Cheh was also provided with sample language as a guide to draft the legislation. It is still not quite clear whether this bill will be marked up (means the committee will vote on the bill to determine if the bill will be delivered to the Committee of the Whole) before the council takes its summer recess (July 15) or after, meaning that a vote from the entire City Council would not occur until September. Regardless of the fine points that still need to be determined, gaining the official support of Mary Cheh is a huge success for the whole Sweatfree DC movement to actually become a reality.

Collectively, it was decided that there would be a press conference held next week on Wednesday to let Councilmember Mary Cheh, and possibly some of the members of her committee, show their public support for the end of sweatshop labor and other poor working conditions in DC funded contracts. Stay tuned for details!

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