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.)

Putting My Values to the Test – Let’s Keep This Thing Going!

Busy_MomIt’s been three months since I first began the Buy Union! challenge. To be honest, a part of me was dreading the challenge because I wasn’t sure I could do it.  Like most of us, I had become relatively thoughtless about how I spent my money — even while publishing a Buy Union! directory:  Los Angeles Labor 411. The thought of re-arranging my life was a bit intimidating, especially considering how busy I am as a working mom. I’ve got a lot on my plate… no less than when I started  the Buy Union! challenge.

But you know what? Sure it’s been inconvenient at times, but change is often less about stopping something than it is about starting something new—creating new habits. And Stressed_Out_SignsI’ve done that. I’ve practically memorized our directory.  I read the labels before I buy. I pass by stores like Target and go to stores like Vons, Albertsons and Ralphs and Rite Aid. Easy. (Well, not always easy, but you know what I mean.)

So I think I’ve gotten the hang of this Buy Union! challenge and since I’ve bent the rules a bit here and there (just a bit, mind you!), I think I’m going to extend this challenge a couple weeks until we unveil the 2011 print edition of Los Angeles Labor 411 — the hardcopy version of www.lalabor411.com. This is huge.99.498571the third year of its publication and it feels a bit anti-climactic to just call off the Buy Union! challenge when we’ve been working so hard on putting together the print edition for months now. A couple additional weeks won’t hurt — actually it will help support more good-paying American jobs and that’s the reason why I’ve committed to this challenge in the first place. So I can live with some more challenge. It’s a good thing. (But as soon as this is over I’m going to sit myself down at a local restaurant and order me some good old fashioned Chinese food! I can’t wait! :)  )

So continue to check back over the next couple weeks. The challenge continues!

Putting My Values to the Test – Union Travel

Marriott_Marquis_SFSometimes I complete my Buy Union! challenge without even knowing it. That’s always a fun surprise – finding out certain things we do regularly are unionized. For instance, travel.

I had to fly to San Francisco on business recently with several members of the Senders Group team and I was delighted to find out the whole trip was union – from airport, to airlines, to car rental, to hotel, to luncheon. Wow! I hadn’t even thought of the trip as being part of my Buy Union! challenge, but it turned out it was. (Good job, Cherri!)

My company publishes half a dozen union newspapers, including one in San Francisco called Organized Labor for the SF Building Trades Council. In fact, Organized Labor is the second oldest labor newspaper in the United States (what an honor!), only being beat out by Labor World  from Duluth, Minnesota by four years. (I’m still trying to get past being beat by Duluth, Minnesota. I mean, really?)

John_ChiangJust as LA Labor 411 celebrates Los Angeles as a great union city, so too does Organized Labor honor the rich construction trades culture and history in a world-class city like San Francisco. Just this month, Organized Labor celebrated its 110th Anniversary as a newspaper and we held a luncheon in San Francisco featuring California State Comptroller John Chiang as our keynote speaker.

Bob-Hope-AirportFirst, we flew out of union-staffed Burbank Airport (named aptly after one of our most famous union members and union label supporter — Bob Hope) up to the unionized Oakland Airport on Southwest Airlines, again, all union . We rented a car from union-staffed Hertz to drive to the union San Francisco Marriott Marquis Hotel where we had a wonderful luncheon catered by Unite Here! members  as we discussed the history of the paper with our union friends and supporters and heard an inspired – if somewhat sobering – talk by Controller Chiang on the future of California’s economy in these bleak times.

The experience of traveling 100% union was a good reminder of how the best of so much of what we already do is union. The idea of having a “union travel experience” is one of our themes in the next edition of LA Labor 411 (2011 edition will be out very soon!). The fact is for a city like Los Angeles (and most great cities) there is a way one can experience that city in an almost entirely union fashion… from how you travel to where you stay to where you eat to what sites you visit… even what gasoline you fill up your car with.

Sure, a lot of the knickknacks, clothing and other small manufactured items we buy from everyone from CVS to Macy’s to Wal-Mart are now made in China. But as this experience has shown me, it’s still possible to live my values with much of the money I spend.

San_FranciscoTravel often provides the most memorable and enlightening experiences of a person’s life and that experience can be done in a way that is fully union… and so often that experience is the best possible way of first getting to know a city:  Union travel, union lodging, union tourism.
To sum it all up, the luncheon was delightful. We feel quite proud to be producing the second oldest labor newspaper in America, in part because we have been able to report for so long on how union members and union leaders have help craft San Francisco as one of the great world cities.

Here’s to another 110 years!


To view a list of unionized airlines, click here.

Putting My Values to the Test – Union Hangover

HangoverNo, this blog is not about the post-election hangover. (California actually did rather well, thank you very much. The rest of the country? Not so much.) This is an honest-to-goodness post New Year’s hangover, following a wild night out of drinking, dancing and partying up a storm. (Whoo hoo!!!!)

Okay. Maybe it wasn’t that wild, but I did get a little too much of my drink on with some labor and non-labor friends and my husband on New Year’s Eve. I was drinking America’s most Empty_Champagne_Bottlepopular brand -- Andre Brut (made right here in Modesto, California) -- and I may have had one drink too many because, let me tell you, I was paying for it the next morning.

You have no idea how annoying an energetic young daughter can be bounding down the stairs first thing in the morning, shouting, “I HAD SO MUCH FUN LAST NIGHT!!!” Yeah, yeah, me too. Now go away for four or five hours.

Anyhow, my daughter can’t help that she’s a young, vivacious woman who enjoys dancing to techno until four in the morning and I guess I can’t help that drinking four glasses of champagne makes my head feel like it’s being banged between two trash can lids and my daughter’s voice is doing the banging. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

Alza-Seltzer_Hangover_AdSo, instead of grabbing my daughter by the ear and throwing her into our backyard pool, I decided to do the decent thing and blame the hangover and not her. I swallowed down a couple USW-made Alka-Seltzer Morning Relief tablets and you know what? I felt better. (Plop! Plop! Fizz! Fizz! Oh what a relief it is!) Within about fifteen minutes (fifteen LONG minutes) my daughter didn’t seem quite so annoying, which is how I like her. A couple of Advil  later on in the morning really did the trick. Next time I think I’ll stop at just three glasses of delicious union-made champagne.

Click here for a list of union-made medicines and personal products.

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