Union Gifts


Union Gifts & Specialty Purchases
By Kate Gatto

Gifts. We all love to get them, and most of us love to give them as well. Of course, most of us would like to do this without having to treat someone else’s friends and family like their labor doesn’t matter. So how do you buy gifts without resorting to companies that treat their workers poorly? Lets talk strategy.

Why Do Living Wages Matter?

What should you care if someone else is paid a fair 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.

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. This research shows that someone working on a minimum wage salary, trying to support a family would be living at 60% of the federally defined poverty level. At that level of income, the family would qualify for a bevy of social service programs, which come out of taxpayer dollars. By supporting a fair wage you reduce the burden on everyone

The Retail Worker Experience

Sadly, many of the local retail chains you already frequent, are probably treating their workers to sub-standard wages. This may be in part due to the way they are perceived. As one worker at a retail chain put it on Jobitorial, “Kohl’s is a corporation with over 1000 stores. You are NOT a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are a number. If this is a problem for you, work at a mom and pop store, or a locally owned restaurant. Each has its drawbacks. One of the great things about Kohl’s is that if you have half a brain, you will never be the worst employee there…If you just stay on as associate, doing small things like staying an extra hour will make supervisors view you as the Risen Christ. It also helps to NEVER EVER bitch about your job. Nobody cares, and since it’s so easy, it only makes others hate you.”

As you can imagine, this point of view (along with many corporations viewing workers as a line item instead of an asset), can create an environment in which workers are viewed by their employer more as cattle than people.  A dehumanizing experience for anyone.

Won’t I Pay More for Labor Friendly Gifts?

One of the biggest consumer concerns over higher wages, is the idea that paying more will be an essential part of the bargain. In the current economic crisis everyone is pinching his or her pennies, and no one wants to see substantial price increases in any sector.

As it turns out, this is not really a concern for consumers. One research study, using the Wal-Mart chain as an example, conducted by The Labor Center at University of California at Berkley suggests that an increase in wages won’t lead to a large increase in prices.

That research study states: “Our analysis reveals that establishing a higher minimum wage for large retailers like Wal-Mart, would have a significant impact on workers living in poverty or near-poverty. We find that 41.4 percent of the pay increase would go to workers in families with total incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (200 percent FPL). These poor and low-income workers could expect to earn an additional $1,670 to $6,500 a year in income for each Wal-Mart employee in the family, before taxes.

Even if Wal-Mart were to pass 100 percent of the wage increase on to consumers, the average impact on a Wal-Mart shopper would be quite small: 1.1 percent of prices, well below Wal-Mart’s estimated savings to consumers. This works out to $0.46 per shopping trip, or $12.49 per year, for the average consumer who spends approximately $1,187 per year at Wal-Mart. This is the most extreme estimate, as portions of the raise could be absorbed through other mechanisms, including increased productivity or lower profit margins”.

Where to Gift?

There are plenty of sites where you can find labor conscious retailers, without having to do detailed investigation. One site that provides reliable listings is Sweat Free. There you can find out more about manufacturers who use sweatshop labor and the retailers who choose to buy from them in detail. Avoid the companies on this list.

Other options for researching companies include Fashioning Change and Wear This, Not That. All three sites can help you to find retailers who have very giftable items that come with peace of mind as a free gift with purchase.

Shopping Offline and Vetting Retailers

If you want to know if one of your favorite retailers is employee friendly, there are a few key questions that you will want to ask. It will not take more than a few moments of your time. All you have to do is make one phone call. Some of the questions include:

1. What are workers paid per hour in your local area? Is that wage realistic to live on?

2. Are the workers offered health insurance? Is that insurance affordable? Is it offered to part-time employees as well?

3. How many of the companies workers are full time? How many paid vacation and sick days are they offered each year?

You can find the contact numbers for many corporations via sites like Jigsaw this will give you the chance to ask someone who might be able to answer your questions with real data. Then you can make a decision about whether or not you think this employer is providing a living wage.

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