It's a Small World After All

We Can Do It!

In my real life, I’m a senior at UCLA, studying science. But my part time gig is as the web editor of Labor 411. You wouldn’t think it, but sometimes the two really can collide. For instance, last week I was studying for a math midterm with my friend Samantha. After 3 hours of hitting the books, we were dizzy from equations and decided to take a break and went for a bite to eat.

Over lunch, we started talking about our families. Turns out her dad was a UAW union representative. I looked at her in disbelief. What a coincidence. Two science majors at UCLA and we have labor parents in common.  She gave me a very confused look and asked, “Did I say something wrong?” I started laughing and said, “you’re not going to believe this, but what a small world! My mom has been a union activist for over 20 years now and this past summer I was the co-project manager of the directory, LA Labor 411.”

Voices of Wisdom: Getting to know Occupy Sacramento

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." 

-Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Everyone has that mental image of a protest in their mind; people standing on a street corner holding home-made signs and chanting in the name of some injustice. The Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread throughout the country like a wildfire certainly has its messages scrawled on pizza boxes, but as I approached the scene at Cesar Chavez Park in downtown Sacramento, I realized instantly that something was different about this campaign. 

It was the permanence of it all.

Ever walk into a stranger’s house and there is sort of an unnerving sensation of being in someone else’s nest, with its foreign scents and disquieting aura. I felt as though I had just intruded upon someone’s home when I stepped into that park.  Tents were pitched, a food table supported a massive bag of bagels and occupiers stood talking with one another, while some stooped to compose their latest message in bright displays only children’s chalk can provide.

Confessions of a College Senior: Where are the Jobs?

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College is a place where young minds come to be filled with grand ideas of worldly importance. Where intellect is sharpened and individuals are molded to enter the world as working adults. Unfortunately, in recent years, a college degree that once gave you a leg up from the competition, now merely keeps you afloat in the drowning American economy. Not too long ago, a college degree set you right into the job market with a good occupation and a fair wage. In this day and age, those that graduate college are not guaranteed anything of the sort.

Voices of Wisdom: Abe Lincoln on Labor

"If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool."

- President Abraham Lincoln

Let's be honest. I'm new to the labor movement and feel that as a reporter with a new beat, I have to tread lightly. I've read quite a few news stories on union activities and lots of information from the labor unions themselves, but finally I got a first-hand taste of that camaraderie that is so often touted on protest signs across the country.

I was assigned to interview union members about the value of union products for our Labor 411 directory at our recent Union Trade Show in September in Los Angeles. I was impressed. To a person, they responded with a genuine sense of caring for the cause, and for America.

There was a time when as a college student I saw picket lines and protests (and not just by union members) as little more than a photo op for certain causes. People waving signs simply because that was what they were told they needed to do to promote the movement; a kind of means to an end. This is the cynical attitude that often pervades my life and it was hard to believe any emotion other than anger drove such demonstrations.

Union Hospital Struggle

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"Employers and employees alike have learned that in union there is strength, that a coordination of individual effort means an elimination of waste, a bettering of living conditions, and is in fact, the father of prosperity".                                  -Franklin D. Roosevelt

After working on Labor 411 all summer and seeing all the hospitals that were unionized in the LA area, I noticed that the hospital I volunteer at is non-union. I decided to ask one of the nurses if the hospital had ever tried to unionize. My simple yes or no question turned into a long, emotional story.

Car Wash Heroes

thumb_Puddle-copy"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

- Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

My earliest memory of a picket line was back in 2003. I was 13. My mom, a registered nurse working for a health insurance company, decided to stock up on food before the grocery workers were to strike.

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

 

Losers

  • 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)

 

CONCLUSION:

  • 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.

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