Voices of Wisdom

“Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor - those who would cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized - do a disservice to the cause of democracy.”
“Those who would destroy or further limit the rights of organized labor - those who would cripple collective bargaining or prevent organization of the unorganized - do a disservice to the cause of democracy.”

- President John F. Kennedy, Labor Day, 1960

Polarized opinions on organized labor and unions in our country today often leave newcomers to the forum confused about a subject that should not be so difficult to decipher. When I first started exploring the world of unions, I was sifting through a plethora of information and commentary from both sides championing their respective movements. Drowning among acronyms and legislative terminology that meant nothing to me, with both sides presenting arguments that pulled my morals this way and that, the question came down to this: Who do I really trust?

Carmageddon got you down?

  • No worries! Here’s some fun tips to turn a would-be disaster into a fun Union Weekend

405_Traffic_II-767272"Carmageddon": the temporary closure of 10 miles of Interstate 405 for 53 hours this weekend in Los Angeles. Or as Stephen Colbert puts it, two off-peak days of increased traffic which means someone might have to walk someplace!

Despite predictions to the contrary, closing down the 405 will not stop your life, we promise. Think of it as just another weekend to experience all that L.A. has to offer…without having to drive. Not only is the event making us rethink our car-driven culture in the City of Angels, Carmageddon is actually a GOOD THING! It’s employing a lot of  people on this project … good middle class jobs that pay union wages and benefits. So let’s celebrate the hundreds of skilled union building trades members – particularly Laborers and Operating Engineers – who are working hard on the 405 make-over. Let’s show our support for them and our great city of LA by having a union weekend blowout!

Meet the LA Labor 411 Team

Hello LA Labor 411 fans, We know that for the past few years, you’ve been dying to know the people behind the book. Really, who would want to spend countless hours back-checking and cross-checking the almost 3,000 entries that make up 411? Spend 6 hours a day updating search words for products and services on the online directory? Research what products are still union made (we all know that those numbers are shrinking each year thanks to outsourcing)?

Well, we would like to introduce you to the people that are taking on this challenge for the 2012 edition of the directory: Mike, Rachelle, and Shelly. For the past few months, these three have been dedicated to updating Los Angeles’ premier guide to union products and services – and they’re all UNDER 30! And maybe because they’re so young, they have the energy and patience to take on this tedious task…or maybe it’s because they can’t get jobs anywhere else. Regardless, they’re excited and bringing a new and younger face to LA Labor 411 and the Buy Union! movement. What better way to attract a younger demographic then having them help produce the book?

Check out the new “Meet the Team” section under the About us heading on the LA Labor 411 website to learn more about Mike, Rachelle, and Shelly.

Putting My Values to the Test - Winners & Losers

winners__losersIt’s been four months since I began my Buy Union! Challenge and it looks like I made it. Looking back over my little union-made adventure, I can say that it was an interesting mixture of joyful activism, annoyance, enlightenment and inconvenience. To be honest with you, I’m not a shopaholic – so it wasn’t like the world was going to end if I couldn’t find something, but still I did learn something important: Based upon my experience it is not possible to completely buy union in this day and age – which is disturbing.

However! It is possible, even convenient to mainly buy union and OVERWHELMINGLY buy American.

The two areas that I found it most difficult on a day-to-day basis to buy union were fresh produce and clothing. I have been a union activist for 20 years and I run a pro-buy-union website – the most comprehensive buy union website anywhere – and I still couldn’t find out which clothes are union-made and whether or not the American produce at union-staffed supermarkets were UFW-picked or not. It was tremendously frustrating.

I believe in buying union. 70% of America’s GDP comes from consumer spending. It’s not empty rhetoric that how you spend your money matters. It has a very real impact upon how our society develops – not just in terms of pure economic vitality, but in the overall quality of life of our society. There are good companies out there that care about their employees and empower them to have a better life.

Here’s the problem: They’re not working hard enough to let you know that… and the unions aren’t helping getting that message out either. With the exception of some smaller companies that are advertising their positive environmental impact or their fair trade relationships, companies overwhelmingly advertise two things: Cheap and convenient. Unfortunately, for the most part cheap and convenient also means two things: Foreign made or low domestic wages.

I was particularly taken by my experience at union-staffed Macy’s. So much of their clothing was made in places like Bangladesh or Malaysia where workers are being paid CENTS on the hour – often five dollars A DAY… and what does the shirt cost? $40. It’s criminal. The truth is that American-made, union-made goods and services cost about the same as non-union, foreign-made, sweatshop goods and services – but with sweatshop made goods those savings are not being passed along to the consumer. Executives are making HUGE profits off poor foreigners and increasingly poor Americans. We, as consumers, can right this ship by making ethical decisions when we shop.

Here are our winners & losers:


Winners – in no particular order

  • Processed Foods:  Breakfast foods, dairy, baked goods, snacks, candies, pasta, sauces, condiments, pre-packaged meats
  • Supermarkets
  • Travel:  Airlines, airports, public transportation, rental cars
  • Hotels
  • Cars
  • Alcohol
  • Pet supplies
  • Personal products:  OTC medicine, toiletries
  • Cleaning products
  • Entertainment Venues: Theme parks & Sporting events
  • Public Services: Parks, libraries, dog pound
  • Printer paper
  • Indian casinos
  • Printers
  • 99 Cent Store



  • Malls
  • Clothing & Shoes
  • Toys
  • Office supply stores
  • Home improvement stores
  • Christmas shopping
  • Smart phones & Tech gadgets
  • Large retail
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Fast food


Confusing & Frustrating

  • Drug stores (some CVS Pharmacies unionized; others are not)
  • Retail (Macy’s—some unionized; others are not)
  • Big box retail (Costco—some unionized; others are not)
  • Cereals and baked goods (even for unionized companies like Kellogg’s, some of their sub-brands like “Whole Grain Cheerios WITH STRAWBERRIES” are actually made in Mexico, though their main brand is made in American in a union plant. One doesn’t know the difference until you look at the box.
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables (tiny labels make it difficult to know if they are American grown or foreign grown)
  • Restaurants (several restaurants of historic value and quality, but not enough of them in such a sprawling city)
  • Fast food (meats are often union-processed, but restaurants are not union staffed)
  • Cars (American cars often made in Mexico and/or contain many non-union, non-American parts, even when assembled at a union plant. Most American car (including parts) is the Toyota Corolla. Huh?)
  • 99 Cent Store (FILLED with cheap union-made products and might use unionized Teamsters to ship, but non-union cashiers and stockers)



  • If a person wants to commit to buying American and  buying union be the guiding principle of their shopping decisions, they can do it with relatively minor inconvenience but only if they require that there be only SOME union role in the manufacturing, shipping, storing or customer service chain. It is very difficult to continuously have an ALL-UNION experience from Point A (design and manufacturing) to the point of sale. It can be done, but it is highly inconvenient.
  • We undervalue the ubiquity and consistency of public services provided by public service union members, whether it be parks or our libraries. We only notice them when things go wrong… or when you’re taking a Buy Union! challenge.
  • Union products and services tend to have a higher level of quality than non-unionized products and services. We should celebrate that.
  • Union food is complicated - many unionized products are processed with lots of salt and sugar, and lack the artistic flare of more indie products (such as from health food or specialty stores). The good news is that many of the UFCW & BGTCM made products are starting to get on the “make it healthy” bandwagon.

Putting My Values to the Test - Union Love on Valentine’s Day


I was drawing a blank for Valentine’s Day this year. I hunted everywhere for ideas: I checked news papers, asked friends; heck, I even searched “things to do for Valentine’s Day” on Google – and came up with zip, nada, zilch. After more than an hour of frantic searching I realized that the solution was right in front of me: the new 2011 edition of LA Labor 411.


Putting My Values to the Test—Union Super Bowl


With two daughters, the Super Bowl isn’t the biggest attraction at our house, but my husband and I are both football fans (GO RAIDERS!) so each year we go to a friend’s house for a big Super Bowl party. I wasn’t even thinking about the day as part of my Buy Union! Challenge, but I did (of course) bring over union-made snacks and beer to share with everyone:  A large bag of Tostitos Artisan Recipes Fire-Roasted Chipotle Tortilla Chips (if you haven’t tried these, you should, they’re really good), a family-sized bottle of Pace Chunky Salsa, and a 12-pack of Bud Light.

Putting My Values to the Test - Off to the Printers!!!

411At long, long, long (LONG!) last we sent the 2011 edition of Los Angeles Labor 411 to the printers (LATE!) yesterday evening.

Of course we had to celebrate. So, right before we sent our files over to the printer, I sent one of my assistants out to buy some beer to toast our success. Being a bit of a beer snob, he returned with two six packs of Mad River Brewing Company’s Steelhead Extra Pale Ale and Steelhead Porter.

I almost fell over. I snapped at him, “You’re expecting us to toast the completion of LA Labor 411 with a microbrewery beer! That’s not union!”

My designer laughed, “What? You didn’t get Budweiser?”

My assistant looks at me like I’d lost my mind, {Keep in mind. It’s been two weeks of 14 hour days getting this directory finished. I’m the boss. I figure I’m entitled to lose my mind occasionally} and says matter-of-factly, “What are you talking about? It’s made by IAM.”

Putting My Values to the Test – My Dog Dexter is Not a Serial Killer

crazy-dogThere’s serial killer on TV who happens to be named after my dog Dexter. As many of you know, my dog Dexter is a 100 percent union dog because we adopted him from the West Valley Animal Shelter, a city run facility with union employees.

Let me be clear, Dexter is not a serial killer nor does he play one in our household. Yes, he has put a big hole in our dog food budget (thankfully I can buy union-made dog food!), but he’s really just a loveable lug. Recently, though, we’ve been having problems with Dexter – he keeps throwing up in the house. We think it’s because he’s eating too much junk. He has a bad habit of finding weird stuff on the street when we take him on walks and gobbling it down before we can stop him. I’ve scheduled a check-up with the vet next week and, no, it won’t be a unionized veterinarian. Sorry, no such thing (yet!), so, I’ll have to take a pass on the Buy Union! challenge on this particular issue.

Putting My Values to the Test – Shipping My Daughter Back to College

Union-Station-LAThe holidays were over and it was time to ship my daughter back to college in Santa Barbara. She’d never been on a train before and her birthday is coming up soon, so I decided to book her a ticket online instead on Amtrak (unionized) as a gift. The round trip ticket cost me around $50 – which is a pretty good deal when you consider driving there and back would run me around 18 gallons of gas. At today’s insane prices that would have come to about $63, maybe more depending on where you buy (actually it shocks me every time I go to the pump. I look up at the price and think, “Really? REALLY?” Urgh.)



union impact