Putting My Values to the Test - Shopping for Union Groceries

grocery_store-3I have to admit that despite all my cheerleading on this blog that I’ve been a bit nervous about starting my buy union challenge. I’ve been a labor activist for 20 years now and I’m extremely busy… but I also have a life outside of the movement. I’m a mother of two girls, still married and with what little time I have outside of work, I like to spend that with my family and (do my best to) relax.Not always an easy feat.

I AM UNION - Deborah Riley - Art Director

Deborah RileyEver since I could hold a pencil, I would draw and draw and draw. I was born in Australia and I spent my early childhood dreaming of becoming an animator. My parents encouraged me, and I collected every book on the art of animation and cartooning available. Even then, creating a world in order to tell a story appealed to me. Although I did not grow up to work in animation, creating the scenery for filmmaking has been the driving force of my professional life.

Putting My Values to the Test--Today I Begin the Buy Union! Challenge


It looks like it’s time to switch from Ivory to Dove soap, Crest to Colgate, and from Godiva to See’s chocolates. Union brands first!

I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life as an activist in LA’s union community and I’ve never seen times as rough as this for our members and for working class families in general. All of the pain I’m seeing around me has got me thinking… a lot.

Did you know that 70% of the American economy is generated by consumer spending? That’s huge! This means that collectively how we, as average citizens, spend our money -- more than government or corporate spending -- is shaping the economy of the United States. And it’s not been a case of whether or not we’ve been spending (oh, we’ve been spending, believe you me!) it’s a matter of how we spend our money. As I look around my house, my garage, and my cupboards I realize that we have been spending our money frivolously on things produced in foreign countries. In the end, no good can come of it.

I AM UNION! - Don Sparks - Pierce College Professor

Don SparksI first came to California from Cleveland, Ohio to study at Humboldt State in 1969 and I never left. Even in high school I knew I wanted to be an educator but I also cared about nature and natural resources. In fact, even at my age I still love to get out into nature. Skiing, hiking, biking and tumbling are all big hobbies of mine. There’s nothing quite like the feeling on being on the side of a mountain after a snowfall and just listening to the silence, feeling the magnitude of it all.

Putting My Values to the Test--Changing the World...$1 at a Time


Now that I’ve shared my experiences about buying my first union-made car on this blog –  how easy and difficult a journey it was buying my Ford Escape   – it’s time to introduce myself, for those of you who don’t know me or my what we do here at Senders Communications Group. I’ve been a union activist for almost 20 years now. My company – including my crew of reporters, photographers and graphic designers -  has been fighting the good fight in favor of union-based political and social causes for more than 16 years now. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of stories, campaigns and elections we’ve done over the years. It’s been an invigorating, wonderful and sometimes frustrating journey in so many different ways. You take your victories where you can get them.

I AM UNION! - Hannah Cooper - IBEW Electrician

hannah_cooper.jpgI was born here in Los Angeles, but I’ve spent a large part of my life traveling. Travelling is probably my greatest passion in life. I love experiencing new cultures and the way they look at life. It broadens a person’s mind at the same time reminds you of all the things that are special about the place you call “home.” And the food! I love experiencing new cultures through their food and art.

I’ve travelled to Australia, France, Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, Israel, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia, England and Canada and I hope to see more! Actually, one of the greatest attractions to becoming a union electrician was the flexibility it provides between jobs. It allows me to do what I love:  Electrical work and travel. 

Most people when they meet me they’re surprised that I’m an electrician. They ask me “Do you like it?” I tell them, “I LOVE IT!” And often they reply, “I don’t even remember the last person who said, ‘I love what I do.’”

But I do. I love being an electrician. Actually my mother was the first female electrician in Los Angeles in the IBEW. My father was a producer growing up, but mother had the most consistent work and often carried the household. I use to train to be a dancer, but when I got older I looked at my options and saw that the apprenticeship program with the IBEW was the best fit for me.

I’m a junkie for knowledge. I love to learn and after two years in the apprenticeship program the big scope of electricity and how it works in our lives really makes sense. My knowledge is constantly developing. The broad scope of practical knowledge is acquired in electricity and construction has really boosted my self-confidence.

I’m proud of being a union electrician. A lot of my friends don’t have any practical knowledge and I find what I’ve learned has really grounded me. It’s been freeing. I love to work with my hands. There’s a sense of strength that comes through working hard on a project and when you’re done the lights come on and you can say, “I did that. I built this.” It feels good. The self-sufficiency is amazing.

There is an inherent sense of pride that comes from being in this trade and the skills I’ve developed just want me to take on more skills and broaden what I can do.

My name is Hannah Cooper... and I AM UNION!

Putting My Values to the Test - Buying My First Union Car - And the Winner Is....

After being disappointed that the Ford Fusion wasn't union-built, I turned my attention to Ford union-made SUVs. I am a working mom with two daughters after all. There's a lot of practicality to having a roomier, but safe vehicle that I can haul around bicycles and home improvement materials in.

I first looked at the Ford Explorer, but like the Jeep Grand Cherokee  it was just too much car for me. I must say, I was really attracted to the Ford Edge, but again, disappointment -- it wasn't union-made.

And then I sat down in the newest love of my life... the Ford Escape. It was just perfect:  A nice sturdy, luxurious SUV that didn't feel like a tank, but was still roomy and gave me great view of the road. I have to admit I'm a bit shallow when it comes to cars; looks matter. The lines of the Escape and plush leather interior of it went a long way for me.

This time I made sure I had a salesman who really knew his stuff. He promised me he would find a union-built car -- even down to a particular assembly line if I needed it. Impressive.

Before I even turned the ignition he explained the Escape's computer system for 30 full minutes. Basically, the car is an android. It does practically everything except do your taxes for you. You can talk to it and it'll provide almost any information you want whether it's traffic, news, directions, business searches... it'll even read your phone's texts to you aloud! Wow.

It was a bit overwhelming and finally I had to ask, "Ummm... are we actually going to take the car out for a test drive?" But finally I got to the big event:  taking the car out on the road. After getting my hopes up before with the Fusion, it was a relief to put the Escape in drive and not be disappointed. It felt solid. The ride was smooth. It handled nicely. I loved the view -- being high up above it all as I drove.

Despite me trying to stay aloof, my astute salesman could sense my growing excitement. He said, "Let me show you something really cool." We found a parking spot on the street between two cars, he pushed a couple of buttons and told me to take my hands off the  wheel. Right. But I did and the car parallel parked itself!  I screamed as the wheel turned on its own and the Escape slid perfectly into the parking space. Wow. What's next? Cars that I can take a nap in while it drives me home and then tucks me into bed?

I really like the car, but I had one last problem. The way the UAW site lists its union made cars, it was confusing whether only the Hybrid qualified as union-made. I love the environment and I want a hybrid vehicle, but the Escape Hybrid costs $5,000 more than the regular Escape. Let's be honest. $5,000 can buy a lot of gas and times are tough. Arrrgggh. I don't know if my family can afford this.

Luckily for me, being a union activist for almost 20 years now, you get to know people. I called up my UAW buddy and he assured me that both the Hybrid and the regular Escape were both kosher -- they rolled off the assembly line in Kansas City, Mo. In fact, the Ford Escape has one of the highest percentage of American made parts of any new car available today.  Whew. Thank goodness! I finally found my union-made car:  The Ford Escape.

It's been a week now and I'm still delighted with my decision. I've learned from my shopping experience that making the right decision when buying isn't always easy. I mean, how many people have a UAW leader on speed dial on their phone?

If we're going to turn things around in this country, we're going to have to make things a lot easier for a shopper to know what they're buying. It's the only thing that makes sense. I know that's what we are doing at LA Labor 411, but the movement has to expand. We need companies, unions, and citizens coming together if we're going to make a difference.

Next week - next steps in my union buying adventure.


Did you know that 83% of products recalled over the last year were foreign made?  The overwhelming majority of these recalls were against Chinese-made goods. In recent years toxic Chinese dog food has painfully killed 3600 American dogs and cats. 81 American citizens were killed by a Chinese blood thinner before it was recalled. In 2007, 25 million children's toys manufactured in China were recalled due to toxic amounts of lead. Lead poisoning in children can result in permanent brain damage and organ failure.

What are we doing as a society in exposing our most vulnerable to toxic products?made in china

Many Americans may not be familiar with the concept of "saving face" in traditional Chinese culture. "Saving face" is avoiding social disgrace and it is very important for the Chinese. In fact, during the Great Leap Forward in the 1950's up to as many as 45 million Chinese starved to death in part due to leaders of agricultural collectives refusing to admit that they had not met their quota. Instead to save face they gave all their grain away to the government... leading to the starvation of the entire collective.

Though a great deal has changed in the last 50 years in China, the concept of saving face remains strong. If factory manager is behind on his quota or his budget, what is to keep him from using inferior quality or even toxic materials to meet his numbers in order to save face? Nothing.

Remember, these recalls of toxic and dangerous goods do not happen the day they arrive in the United States. Sometimes it takes the death of 3600 pets or the poisoning of hundreds of children before a product is taken off the shelf. Why take that chance?

American-made, union-made products are not only better for the economy and the environment, but they're safer for your family. Unions are committed to quality and safety. Though many scoff at union rules, they are there to create a safer, non-toxic work environment which is not only better for workers, it's better for you and your family.

Next time you're shopping do the right thing for yourself, your country and your family:  Buy American. Buy union.


Putting My Values to the Test - Buying My First Union Car - WHAT? You've Got To Be Kidding Me!

Through all this union car shopping, sometimes you just have to go with your gut. Like most people, if a friend tells me how amazing something is, I'm interested. It usually takes an extraordinary piece of advertising to raise my interests.  But even then advertising doesn't seal the deal. If it did, I'd be driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee right now.

I've been hearing a lot of buzz recently about the Ford Fusion. I must have had five people tell me that they love the car including a very tech-savvy friend who has for years looked down his nose at American cars. It was time for me to look at a Ford. I was practically sold on the Fusion before I was sure what the new model even looked like.

ford fusionIn fact, Ford has done a good job of rebranding itself over the last few years. They were the only company of the American Big Three not to take bailout money and their new CEO, Alan Mulally, has developed a reputation of driving Ford towards a long-term commitment to quality. Sure enough, when I researched Ford at Car and Driver and Consumer Reports, their quality was ranked as high as Toyota's and the Fusion had very positive reviews. I went down to a local Ford dealership practically ready to sign the contract right there and then.

After some discussion with the salesman on how much Ford had improved their products, I decided to take a drive in the Fusion S-a four cylinder version, but still with 175 horsepower, which is not bad. I sat down and I could see Ford CEO Alan Mulally's influence immediately (he served previously as the CEO of Boeing). It did have the look of a jet's cockpit. Very cool.

Driving the Fusion around the block... something was missing. Yes, the ride was smooth. Yes, it handled well. Yes, it was an Insurance Institute of Highway Safety Top Safety Pick (even though it didn't feel nearly as solid as the Chevy Malibu). But something was missing. I don't know what it was, but I just didn't find myself developing the same enthusiasm I had for the other cars I have so far tried out.

You have to understand, I was so ready to love this car. I wanted to love this car still, even after the test drive was over. After stepping out, I walked up to the sticker in the rear window looking for that crucial selling point:

33 miles to the gallon highway? Very nice.

$21,000 list. Affordable. I can live with that.

Factory of manufacture:  Hermosillo, Mexico.  WHHHHAAAAT!?!?!?

I knew something was wrong!

I frantically checked http://www.lalabor411.com/ and, yup, there it wasn't: The Ford Fusion was not included on the list. Argh.

I cannot believe that I almost let my friends talk me into buying a non-union made car, but a non-union car made in Mexico. I really dodged a bullet on that one. At least my gut knew it wasn't right!

Maybe it's time to start looking more at SUV's-UNION-MADE SUV's. But this time I'm checking the UAW list of union-made cars first.

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