MacysI admit it. I like shopping. I’m a girl. What did you expect?  The problem is there aren’t a lot of retail stores that are unionized. An exception is Macy’s. Many Macy’s stores are UFCW represented. So, I found one and decided to have a few hours by myself.

I like Macy’s. Always have. I like their merchandise. I like the layout of their stores. I like their history.    I also particularly like that Macy’s has been active in the green movement. They were voted in the top 50 most green corporations in the 2009 Newsweek rankings  by adding solar power to many stores, using biodegradable packing products, and significantly expanding their “eco-friendly” product lines. We need more of that in this world.

My husband needs some new dress shirts and my niece’s birthday is coming up so I thought I’d buy her something girly. I entered Macy’s with my travel edition Los Angeles Labor 411 in hand. We have a pretty extensive list of garments and clothing manufactured by UniteHere, so I thought this wouldn’t be too tricky. {Wrong!}

I went up to a smiling and very professional customer service rep and showed her my list of UniteHere men’s dress shirt manufacturers:

  • Brooks Brothers
  • John Forsyth
  • Kenneth Gordon
  •  MWG Apparel
  •  Phillips-Van Heusen

“Do you carry any of these?” I asked.

The Macy’s salesperson said with a perky smile, “Oh yes! We have Phillips-Van Heusen! It’s right over here,” and she led me a short distance to a small wall of various Phillips-Van Heusen dress shirts in a wide variety of colors. “This is all our Van Heusen dress shirts.”

“Perfect! Thank you very much.”

“Oh, it was my pleasure. If there’s anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask.”

“I won’t. Thank you.”

As she walked off, I began inspecting the labels. All of them (all of them!) were made in either Bangladesh or Honduras. I felt ripped off.

SweatshopTo their credit Phillip Van-Heusen markets their foreign factories as “fair trade,”  but come on, let’s be serious here. This is Bangladesh. The same Bangladesh were other manufacturers are paying textile employees 1 ½ cents for every pair of pants they sew.  We’re talking cheap labor. Disturbingly cheap labor.

I’m looking at these $50 shirts and thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” It’s not like the shirts were made of some imperial silk. They were nylon and cotton. So, we’re talking about probably a couple dollars of fabric costs, maybe a dollar in labor costs, and transportation costs—maybe five bucks total—for a $50 shirt. Give me a break.

Where was all this money going? It certainly wasn’t going to my UFCW brothers and sisters at Macy’s. While Macy’s workers do have some nice benefits, I don’t see anyone getting filthy rich working the counters at Macy’s. Often the savings are not passed onto the consumers, but the profits are passed onto the board of directors.

MadeInChinaLabelI began looking through the men’s sections trying to find a product made in America. I couldn’t. Everything was made in India, China, Bangladesh, Honduras, the Phillipines or Mexico. I felt such disappointment having to dig inside of that classic American brand—Levi’s—to find that they were made in Mexico. And it wasn’t easy to find. A lot of these manufactures make the “Made In…” label the most difficult to find. Pierre Cardin was particularly bad. Scouring a shirt to locate the tiny “Made In China” label made me feel like some executive in New York was laughing me.

I gave up. I flirted with the idea of buying something American, but I’m not buying a shirt from Bangladesh. Not in this economy.

I took the escalator up to the second floor to look for women’s clothes for my niece. There didn’t seem to be a lot of union-made options. Again, everything was made in some Third World country and expensive, but I did find one company that had American made jeans:  Not My Daughter’s Jeans. Cute! And then I looked at the price tag. $108 for a pair. Yikes! Maybe I should keep looking, anyhow I feel a bit uncomfortable buying my young niece jeans called “Not My Daughter’s Jeans” even if she isn’t my daughter.

OakleyLadiesMy niece likes sunglasses so I walked up to the sunglass kiosk and another smiling face greeted me. I must give it to the employees of Macy’s. They present themselves in a genuinely friendly and professional way. Still, I asked with a hint of resentment expecting the bad answer, “Do you have any American-made sunglasses?”

Without missing a beat she stated confidently, “Oakley. Made right here in Irvine from American parts. Oakley are simply the best.” American made. Local. My interest was piqued.

“Do you know if they’re union-made?”

She gave me a confused squint and stated, “No. I don’t know if they are.”

“Yeah, I don’t think they are. I probably would have heard if they were.” I then explained to her my Buy Union! Challenge and she listened patiently and pleasantly.

“Well, Oakley’s are American made and they are the best! No one has their level of technology. Most manufacturers say they filter out 100% of UV rays, but in truth they only filter out about 70% of UV rays. Oakley actually is the only one that truly filters out all 100% of UV rays.”

Hmmmm…” I thought, “American made, locally made, high quality, my niece would love them… maybe I could bend the rules in this challenge. Macy’s is UCFW after all,” and then I looked at the price. $180 for the cheapest pair for girls. Mama mia! Too rich for my blood.

I thanked her and walked off to the cosmetics section. My niece is just starting to put on makeup. Her mother may be a bit concerned, but I thought, “What the heck? It’s fun. She’s growing up.” Anyhow, there’s got to be something in this place I can buy! Another customer service employee walked up to me and asked, “Can I help you?’

“Do you carry Revlon?” I know Revlon is UAW made. A little well-kept secret.

Her face briefly contorted, “Ummm… no. You can find that at some place like Target.”

“I can’t shop at Target. It’s not unionized.”

I then explained to her my Buy Union! Challenge. She listened patiently (I say “patiently” because I was feeling a bit flustered by now) and then chirped out, “Well, Estee Lauder is American made. They’re from New York.”

{Sigh} “Okay. Let me have a look.” I glanced down at my cellphone. I was late. Again. I couldn’t drag out this shopping experience forever. I has a meeting waiting for me. Looking over the products I found a decently priced eyeliner that I thought my niece would like.

“I’ll take it,” I blurted.

“Okay!” she said with a smile and quickly processed the purchase. “You have a really good day!”

“Thanks. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it,” as I walked off feeling a bit stressed. Well, I got some shopping done, but somehow don’t feel like I had a victory with this one.

Maybe this Buy Union! Challenge will be a bit more of a “challenge” than I expected.

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