By Kate Gatto
The word tool covers a lot of ground. It can mean anything from the screwdriver that you used to fix a wobbly door handle, to the large-scale pieces of machinery that allow modern marvels to be built. Whether your purchase is big or small, you want make sure that it matters. One way to make sure that your dollars really matter is by buying from suppliers and from stores that choose to pay their workers a real living wage.
Why Does Living Wage Matter?
You may be wondering why exactly this is such an important issue. After all, don’t lower wages mean lower product costs for you? As it turns out, not really. One research study, conducted by The Labor Center at University of California at Berkley suggests that an increase in wages won’t lead to a noticeable increase in prices.
That study states the following: “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.
There is also the ethical point to consider. It matters because everyone working a full-time job should be able to support their family with the money they earn. 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. You may be shocked to find out just how little a minimum wage job provides.
Buying From Union Suppliers
When it comes to people who make things for a living, one of the best things that can be done is to buy from companies that support union labor. What does unionization actually mean? It means that the workers have some recourse if they feel they are being treated unfairly by management.
It also means that they have the right to bargain collectively for terms of employment, such as the hourly wage they are paid, and benefits such as health insurance or cost-of-living increases. While unions vary in their effectiveness from organization to organization, and even situation to situation; they are still the most reliable measure for determining fair labor practice in a company.
Which Tool Makers Are Union?
You may be wondering exactly which tool makers support the use of union labor. After all, most of us do not simply have the time in our lives to research the entire industry. Lucky for you, many people before you have had these concerns; and have done the research for you. They have created lists that can tell you which companies are fair, and which you should pass up on.
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 of tool makers is as follows:
You will notice that some of the listings for the tool makers above, also come with a listing of the retail locations that may sell their products. This does not mean that those retailers necessarily treat their employees properly.
If you want to know where to shop, there is a little bit of work to be done. One useful list, originally published over at 24/7 Wall Street can help decide which stores are unfair to their workers. The list includes 12 companies notorious for worker exploitation and outsourcing. These non-living wage retailers may choose to sell tools in your area, and it’s important that you know where they stand on labor issues. Those companies include large national chains such as:
Sears (and Kmart)
So what can you do to ensure that you are buying from responsible retailers? One simple solution is to simply buy your tools from the manufacturer’s website. This cuts out irresponsible retailers entirely (and in some cases, will save you money by removing the middle man). If you wish to take shot at a local store, the best thing you can do is to simply ask the company about their labor practices. Contact the customer service number, or in the case of a local shop speak to the owner or manager, in order to get general information about what ground-level workers are being paid per hour.