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Retail Offenders

Even buying a gallon of milk can pack a pro-union punch

By Cynthia McCabe and Tyler Miller

You work hard for your money, so why hand it over to businesses that don’t support public education or basic worker rights like union organization, fair pay, and adequate health care coverage? Or companies that fund politicians who oppose rights like these that create better working and living conditions for educators and students?

In many cases, there’s a concrete connection between where a teacher buys his fishing waders and whether his money ends up working for him or against him, says Michael Edwards, director of Labor Outreach for NEA. When someone buys union-made products or hires a unionized service, she “supports the concept of a strong union movement, encourages employers to act fairly and responsibly, and promotes the rights and well-being of America’s working families.”

While no company is likely perfect, the key is to be as informed and purposeful a customer as possible. Scott Maney, a seventh-grade social studies teacher in Springboro, Ohio, buys his groceries at the union-staffed Kroger, drives a union-made Ford Explorer, and ships packages through the unionized U.S. Postal Service or UPS. Just think: One out of every 100 Americans is an NEA member. If more educators spent like Maney, it could have an enormous effect.

Edwards also encourages writing to company officials—whether CEOs of big corporations or managers of local stores—to explain the pro-union and pro-public education motivation for their shopping. “You’d be surprised how such comments can bolster good practices and move even a very large enterprise in the right direction,” he says.

Educators Have Their Say

Would you seek out companies that support workers’ rights and public education if you had better information about those businesses? Read on to hear what members had to say and add your voice to the discussion.

Leana Clothier
High school English teacher, Edmonds, Washington

I boycott Wal-Mart precisely because of their anti-union, seemingly unethical behavior —I don’t want my money supporting business practices that go against my own values!

Chris Cloke
High school English teacher, Wenatchee, Washington

I can’t very well instruct my students to follow their convictions and think critically if I’m unwilling to do the same.

Mary Eloise Smith
Elementary school teacher, Bourbon, Indiana

I live in rural Indiana and have to drive a minimum of 20 miles in any direction just to buy groceries, so I feel my choices are limited.

Maria Haberer
Retired second-grade teacher, Washington, Iowa

Most of the time we do make pro-union, pro-public education spending decisions. However, some items are not available in the stores around here.

Harold Acord
High school language teacher, Riverside, California

I always try to buy union and I will drive for miles to do so. Having grown up in a United Auto Workers family in the Flint, Michigan, area, it has been the way my family has always done things.

Bonnie Peck
Educational computing specialist, Las Vegas, Nevada

Absolutely. I am really loving the direction that NEA is beginning to take in this area.

LaNelle Holland
Hospital homebound teacher, Carollton, Georgia

I refuse to shop where workers are subject to such abuse or where, here in Georgia, businesses fly the old state flag or other versions of the Confederate flag!

Lauren Dowell
Special education teacher, Bowling Green, Kentucky

I would support more pro-union businesses if I knew more. NEA does a great job telling us about candidates (national and local) so I feel very informed on that end. Shopping, however, I'm kind of in the dark.

Jana Kaye
Fifth-grade science teacher, Lake Charles, Louisiana

As a teacher and single mother of two young girls, I find it increasingly hard to make ends meet while trying to plan for my daughters’ future. I would be for shopping at those types of places, but unfortunately for me, cost plays a major part in where I shop. I am already working two jobs. I think the info would be helpful for me only if teacher pay would increase.


A Good Deal?

Their products and prices may be irresistible, but you may want to think about what goes on behind the scenes at some of the country’s most popular businesses before you step inside.

Patrick Byrne, CEO of this online discount retailer, is an outspoken supporter of school vouchers. Overstock President Jonathan Johnson, meanwhile, has reportedly said that “dealing with unions is not a deal worth doing.” Perhaps shopping at for marked-down goods is not such a good deal after all.
Although its foundation does good work, only half of Wal-Mart’s U.S. workers receive health care; and in 2008, the so-called “Beast from Bentonville” settled 63 wage and hour lawsuits filed against it in 42 states. And don’t forget its leaders’ anti-public education positions—which include big donations to pro-voucher efforts.
The Seattle-based brewer may have the best lattes around, but it also has consistently opposed organized labor and has been the subject of several National Labor Relations Board investigations. The ubiquitous coffee chain has settled no less than six complaints about workers’ rights violations.
The CEO of this pizza chain supports the privatization of public school jobs and merit pay. The company also opposes unions: After the National Labor Relations Board recognized the first pizza-delivery union in 2006, Domino’s franchises reportedly rewarded their non-union employees with a salary hike.

Outback Steakhouse, Carraba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill

Never mind the fat-laden appetizers, OSI’s political action committee doles out the fat to candidates like conservative Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who once said that eliminating minimum wage would “virtually wipe out unemployment.”

Last fall while discussing the importance of defeating the Employee Free Choice Act (legislation that would make it easier to join a union), founder Bernie Marcus said retailers that didn’t donate to GOP candidates “should be shot.” A tool purchase from Home Depot is like throwing a wrench in union-strengthening efforts.


Spending Smart

Where to Shop, What to Buy—A Sampler

Here are some labor-friendly businesses and union-made products you can buy with confidence. Each category contains only a sampling—head to magazine to find links to comprehensive lists compiled by watchdog groups and labor associations for an even wider range of products and services.


Grocery Stores Children’s Products
  • Safeway
  • Giant
  • Giant Eagle
  • Stop & Shop
  • Albertsons
  • Kroger
  • Chubs baby wipes
  • Gerber baby food
  • Nestle baby food
  • Radio Flyer wagons
  • Oshkosh B’Gosh clothing
Vehicles Pet Products
  • Chrysler Sebring
    • Convertible
    • Aspen/Hybrid
  • Mazda6
    • Tribute/Hybrid
  • Saturn Aura/Hybrid
    • Outlook
  • Pontiac Vibe
    • Solstice
  • 9 Lives
  • Fresh Step
  • Friskies
  • Science Diet
Food Beverages
  • Ball Park hot dogs
  • Captain Crunch cereal
  • Vlasic pickles
  • Ore-Ida products
  • JIF peanut butter
  • Heinz catsup and mustard
  • Dannon yogurt
  • Maxwell House coffee
  • McDonald’s coffee
  • Coke
  • Pepsi
  • Poland Spring water
  • Minute Maid
Sweet Treats Cleaning Products
  • Hershey
  • Russell Stover
  • Godiva
  • Carvel ice cream
  • Sara Lee baked goods
  • Tide detergent
  • Snuggles dryer
  • sheets
  • Palmolive
  • Ajax
  • Clorox
  • Liquid Plumber
  • Lysol
Home Goods Personal Products
  • Costco
  • All-Clad
  • Electrolux
  • Frigidaire
  • Kenmore
  • Chapstick
  • Old Spice
  • Colgate
  • Coppertone
  • Irish Spring
  • Dove
  • Advil
  • Pepto-Bismal



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Want to learn about more businesses and products that deserve your dollars? Check out these labor associations' lists of union-made products and union-friendly employers:

Here's a list of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union-made products.

The AFL-CIO compiles another great list of union-made products as well as a list of pro-union companies and places to shop.

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