By Kate Gatto
When it comes to making expensive purchases, furnishing your home can be one of the most dollar intensive purchases you can make. Short of actually purchasing your home, or getting a college education; outfitting your house’s kitchen, bathroom and laundry rooms may be the biggest purchases you make in your lifetime. This makes it one of the best opportunities for you to put your money where your values are.
What exactly does that mean? It means that you will have the opportunity to buy from companies that give their workers a living wage. Why is that important? Because it allows people at all levels of the economic ladder to be able to support themselves, and their families with the fruits of their labors.
And that is something anyone who works full-time should be able to do. If you want to learn more about how minimum wage is not a living wage for a family, great information is available from the Poverty Research Center at the University of California.
Telling Good From Bad
When it comes to appliances (and things made in the manufacturing sector in general), one of the simplest and easiest ways to tell a company that treats its workers right, from a company that treats them like a line item on the budget, is to look for a company that allows its workers to unionize.
Unionization allows the workers the ability to make demands collectively, such as quality health insurance and cost-of-living wage increases. While unions do vary in their effectiveness from organization to organization, and even situation to situation, they are still the most reliable measure consumers have access to when making a decision about fair labor.
Who Uses Unions?
You might think that finding union appliance companies would be difficult, but it couldn’t be easier. Luckily for you, there are a fair number of sites that are willing to give you a simple listing of who uses union workers, and who does not. One such reliable list can be found at Labor 411, they provide a list of union companies along with a description of the organization’s union affiliation. The current list is as follows:
As you can see there are many different brands, suited to a range of price options. This means that you can support union business no matter what stage of life you find yourself in, or what budget you have to work with.
Retailers to Buy From
Of course now that you know what brand you want to buy, you still have the issue of what store to make your purchase at. After all, if you buy a labor friendly device from non-labor friendly store, you may find that you’ve negated some of your own efforts to be a more ethical consumer.
So let’s take a look at some of the retailers you might see around you every day, and evaluate them for the way they treat their workers.
One list, originally published over at 24/7 Wall Street can help us in making this evaluation. The list includes the 12 U.S. companies that pay their workers the least per hour. These companies don’t give their workers any semblance of a living wage, and use their profits to satisfy stockholders and corporate management. Companies from this list that may sell appliances in your area include the following:
Sears (and Kmart)
Finding Better Retailers
Now you know which retailers are off the table, you may be wondering how exactly it is you’re supposed to find retailers who do pay their workers living wage. One option, which is fairly well distributed over the nation, is found in the list above. You could simply go to Costco.
Of course if you’re shopping around for a deal, or they don’t have the particular appliance you want, then you may need to look elsewhere. This means you’re going to have to do a little research. But let’s be honest, when it comes to a major purchase like an appliance you were going to do a little bit of research any way. The extra 2 minutes to find a labor conscious supplier won’t add that much to your research time.
Now talk strategy.
One of the simplest things you can do once you find a retailer is simply to Google them. Simply open up the search engine and put in the name of the company with the words “labor practices” or “pay per hour”, then you can make a decision about whether or not you think the workers at that establishment are being paid a living wage.
For some stores you may see information that simply says “commission”. This means that salespeople are being paid when they make a sale, and (depending on your state laws and the company’s contract) not necessarily well for the rest of their hours.
If you’re unclear on this point, or are unable to find information about the company’s payment practices, a simple phone call can clarify things. Set your search engine to look for the company’s corporate number, and talk to a customer service representative about the issue.
In the case of a local, or family-owned store, call the retail location and ask to speak to the manager or owner. Explain your concerns (making sure they know that you’re interested in a purchase), and they should be willing to give you the information in general terms. Never ask for specific employee salary as that would be inappropriate.