Putting My Values to the Test – Shopping for Union Groceries

I 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.

The truth is I’ve become a bit addicted to the thoughtless convenience of buying whatever when I want it without thinking about it too much. So, like an alcoholic drinking his last drink I admit, I did shop at Target last week, but that was last week and now I’m on the buy union challenge.

I thought I’d start easy. A little grocery shopping. I decided to go to Ralphs which isUFCW represented. The first thing I noticed walking into Ralphs was the gorgeous displays of flowers, elegant lighting, the temperature’s just right… I could feel my body relax a bit. A little smile fell upon my face. I guess buying union might not be such a chore after all.

Looking around at the neat shelves filled with so much variety, I felt pride knowing this was all put together and maintained by union hands. I mean, I’ve gone to hundreds of rallies and engineered so many campaigns… and what it really comes down to is this:  People living their lives, earning middle class wages in healthy environments, while providing skills and services to the public.

As I walked down the aislesI stocked up on goods, mainly from my UFCW list—Kraft cheese, Land O’Lakes butter, Yoplait, Sugar In The Raw, Guilden’s Mustard, Hebrew National, Ore-Ida tater-tots… I did wince a bit when I noticed the Land O’Lakes was $.40 more than a generic brand, but I guess that’s why they call it a challenge. In the end, $.40 isn’t going to kill me, and that money does go to a business that supports better paying jobs for workers. Thatiswhat it’s about, after all.

Now over to the pet food aisle. I’m relieved, my preferred brand is union made – Friskies. Next up is picking up a six pack for the game this weekend. Miller beer it is. Union made.

As I approached the checkout stand I felt a certain relief at “doing a good thing” and was quite proud of myself. It’s amazing how a little thing can make one feel like a kid getting a gold star in class. My good vibe was briefly distracted by the inevitable gauntlet to gossip magazines plastered with fellow union members (SAG) in various states of disaster.

Putting down my goods on the conveyor belt my check out clerk, Dominic, pleasantly asked me how my shopping experience was and I responded, “Good! I’m doing the Buy Union! challenge!”

He looked at me, puzzled. “You from the union or something?”

“Well, I represent a lot of unions. I run a PR firm in the Valley and I’m beginning a three month challenge to buy only union made goods.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Well, to support good union jobs and workers, like yourself, who belong to unions!”

Dominic cocked his head to the side, looking a little confused.  He paused for an instant and then blurted out a forced cheerful, “Well, good luck with that!”

While I was paying with my card, I asked, “How long have you been working here, Dominic?”

“A little over a year.”

“So, you missed the strike?” I asked.

“Yeah, thankfully. Some of the old timers are still kind of upset about that.”

“Yeah, they are,” suddenly realizing that I was beginning to hold up the line, “but sometimes you got to fight for what you believe in, even if you don’t always know how it’s going to end up.”

“I guess so. Hey, you have a really good day!” He said with an honest friendliness.

“You too. Thank you!”

As I wheeled my cart out to my new UAW-made Ford Escape,  I felt good about my experience, but I’m thinking that there may be more to this than just purchasing union-made goods. Maybe this is about experiencing union life.

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