Category Archives: Labor unions

Formerly “Unions and unionism”.

New ethical certification for kosher food

Religious life and ethical consumption are two of my interests. Non-Jews might miss growing story in the Jewish and secular press, so I want to mention Hekhsher Tzedek, a new kosher certification that includes the ethics of production in parallel with religious regulation. (For news about it, it’s easier to follow Rabbi Morris Allen’s blog.)

A scandal concerning Agriprocessors, the nation’s largest kosher meatpacking facility, concerning animal welfare and labor standards (including child labor) made The New York Times (“Inquiry Finds Under-Age Workers at Meat Plant“) and the wires and gave Hekhsher Tzedek a particular timeliness. (PETA and the UFCW have their own exposé sites.)

I welcome the new certification, but it is one of dozens (many local) and is dwarfed by the Circle U hechsher of the Orthodox Union, which apparently doesn’t share the expanded set of concerns. (Also Hekhsher Tzedek is Conservative; I can only imagine the intra-Jewish controversies and politics at play so I’ll comment no further.)

So what’s the import for non-Jews? There are relatively few standards — fair trade certifications, vegetarian certifications and union labels among them — by which one can measure whether something comes to market in a way the buyer thinks is ethical. Plus, some ethical standards may clash: say, local production against opportunity for persons in a developing country, or synthetic fabrics that have recycled content but which itself cannot be further recycled. Lacking standards, it easy to give up the hope of consuming ethically, or worse, be lured into thinking you’re doing your part by something that has the affect of an ethical decision, but is substantially no different than an “unethical” product. Certain brands of bottled water come to mind. I’ve come to the point where I’m more suspicious of a product if it claims to be green than if it doesn’t.

Until more certifications come into being, we can celebrate and support the ones we have. If Hekhsher Tzedek can tell me a lettuce is free of insects (a kosher issue) and came from a farm with fair labor practices, I’ll respect its authority and buy accordingly. And we can take a stronger interest in the activities of those who produce the goods we use, and share the news: the considered opinion of a thoughtful and just person may be the greatest certification of all.

Prayers for the National Day of Prayer

Since the recognized avenue for National Day of Prayer observances — supported by quite a few governors, but gladly not the Mayor of the District of Columbia so far as I’ve found; is yours one?is a conservative Evangelical task force (Christian Science Monitor), I think I’ll keep my distance. But a couple of prayers to recall the day, with a note to the other reason people remember May 1. (The National Day of Prayer is the first Thursday in May.)

Let us pray:

O God, who art the unsearchable abyss of peace, the ineffable sea of love, the fountain of blessings, and the bestower of affection, who sendest peace to those that receive it, open to us this day the sea of Thy love, and water us with plenteous streams from the riches of Thy grace, and from the most sweet springs of Thy benignity. Make us children of quietness and heirs of peace. Enkindle in us the fire of Thy love; sow in us Thy fear; strengthen our weakness by Thy power; bind us closely to Thee and to each other in one firm and indissoluble bond of unity. Amen.

Syrian Clementine Liturgy, in “A Book of Common Worship” (Knickerbocker Press, 1915), p. 220.

O God, thou mightiest worker of the universe, source of all strength and author of all unity, we pray thee for our brothers, the industrial workers of the nation. As their work binds them together in common toil and danger, may their hearts be knit together in a strong sense of their common interests and destiny. Help them to realize that the injury of one is the concern of all, and that the welfare of all must be the aim of every one. If any of them is tempted to sell the birthright of his class for a mess of pottage for himself, give him a wider outlook and a nobler sympathy with his fellows. Teach them to keep step in a steady onwards march, and in their own way fulful the law of Christ by bearing the common burdens.

Grant the organizations of labor quiet patience and prudence in all disputes, and fairness to see the other side. Save them malice and bitterness. Save them from the headlong folly which ruins a fair cause, and give them wisdom resolutely to put aside the two-edged sword of violence that turns on those who seize it. Raise up for them still more leaders of able mind and large heart, and give them grace to follow the wiser counsel.

When they strive for leisure and health and a better wage, do thou grant their cause success, but teach them not to waste their gain on fleeting passions, but to use it in building fairer homes and a nobler manhood. Grant all classes of our nation a larger comprehension for the aspirations of labor and for the courage and worth of these our brothers, that we may cheer them in their struggles and understand them even in their sins. And may the upward climb of Labor, its defeats and its victories, in the farther reaches bless all classes of our nation, and build up for the republic of the future a great body of workers, strong of limb, clear of mind, fair in temper, glad to labor, conscious
of their worth, and striving together for the final brotherhood of all men.

Walter Rauschenbusch, For God and the people: prayers of the social awakening (The Pilgrim Press, 1910), p.57-58.

Union-made men’s dress shirts

I’m losing weight — 34 pounds so far — and am beginning to swim in my old clothes. I had already planned to replace much of it because they are showing signs of wear, but only with clothes I know can be sourced without sweatshops. I’ve had to step back a bit from my US-made, union-made goal. I’ve got two posts soon about that.

But today, victory.

I wear Van Heusen shirts and like them. Mine are ordinary white pinpoints, US- and union-made. But they vanished in the stores and I figured the jobs were shipped off-shore. But then I saw the company listed at UNITE HERE’s clothing site, so I wrote:

Greetings:

I saw Phillips-Van Heusen listed by Unite HERE! as a maker of union-made
dress shirts. (http://www.unitehere.org/buyunion/promo.php) I would like to
buy these; can you tell me which lines are union made, or how I might buy
them in person or online?

Yours truly,
Scott Wells
Washington, D.C.

I got the reply yesterday:

Dear Mr. Wells:

The UNITE HERE label is sold in department stores only.

In your surrounding area, the label is sold at Macy’s and Lord & Taylor.
Please visit www.pvh.com, store locator for the exact address of these
department stores.

Thank you!

Sincerely,
Van Heusen Retail Customer Service

Now, Van Heusen has a number of dress shirt lines, some of which are sold locally at Macy’s and Lord and Taylor and some not. I do need a couple of new shirts. I’ll let you know what I come up with.

And if not them, there are other options, but by mail-order and probably at greater cost.

All this talk of IDs . . . .

Several people have resumed discussion of General Assembly: of this, I have nothing to add.

But it leads me to a bit of good news. I am back to the weight shown on my driver’s license, long a fiction. More than 20 pounds down from where I was when I started to loose weight at Thanksgiving! The blogging upside is I will start ordering sweatshop-free, union- or worker-cooperative-made and ethically-sourced clothing.

Just a status update. Just another 25 pounds to go!

Parson’s Handbook: avoid sweatshops

Dearmer, in his introduction, reviews the poor esteem his Church then held for the arts: how commercial purchase has replaced patronage for its decorations and furnishings. Little wonder — it follows — how little concern artists have for the Church. In case the Unitarian Universalists out there have glazed-over eyes, I should point out it was Percy Dearmer who commissioned the hymn “Morning Has Broken.” Got your attention now?

He goes on and spells out the moral problem — to use our terms — of outsourcing vendors. More than the class of artists

. . . there is another class of persons concerned, the largest of all, the working class. For vulgarity in the long-run always means cheapness, and cheapness means the tyranny of the sweater [sweatshop supervisor]. A modern preacher often stands in a sweated pulpit, wearing a sweated surplice over a cassock that was not produced under fair conditions, and, holding a sweated book in one hand, with the other he points to the machine-made cross at the jerry-built altar, and appeals to the sacred principles of mutual sacrifice and love. (page 5)

He’s still right in principle, but it is now easy to buy all the church goods you need — save electronics — from American, Canadian and western European suppliers with less risk of buying from a sweatshop than anything else might use for clothing or decor. I’ve written about some of the suppliers before, including the candle makers under union contract. Indeed, indirectly, Dearmer gets credit here too, for his part in the formation of the Wareham Guild, for “the making of all the ‘Ornaments of the Church and of the Ministers thereof’ according to the standard of the Ornaments Rubric, and under fair conditions of labour” thus influencing both the style and default labor conditions of church and clergy furnishings workers.

But we can never be too careful, especially when we’re tempted by bargains.

Ethically-sourced laptops: just finding vendors

Following up on Ms. Theologian’s comments about who really makes laptop computers (Surviving the Workday), I thought I would point out two sources. These really are the exception to the rule, and even these use foreign-made components, including those sourced from China. But at least you can email someone and get a straight answer.

  • Like at Union Built PC. This link is to a laptop noted as”Union Final Assembly in USA from domestic and foreign components by members of CWA Local 1101 or IBEW Local 17.” Those locals are in New York City and Southfield, Michigan. (Note: the locals sites may cause headaches and unpleasant questions about web design, particularly the former.)
  • One of the interns at Day Job showed me his laptop that he got from a “mom n’ pop” (and Christian, it seems) supplier of generic laptops — since they’re nearly all made in Asia anyway — and it had held up well, with good customer service. I’ll investigate them since at least you can identify your model with a real factory. They also sell laptops without an operating system, desirable for Linux users. Again, no points for web design, but you can’t have it all.

I’m getting the gruesome feeling that the best laptop, in the end, is no laptop. I mean, do I really need one this badly?

Newletter to help identify union-made goods, services

I’ve gone over and over how I try to buy US and Canadian union-made goods to ensure the goods I buy were produced with consideration for the workers who make them, and to try to keep a variety of industries on these shores. (Just imagine the cost of imports as transport fuel costs increase.)

But sometimes it isn’t easy to find these goods.  The newsletter of the Union Label and Service Trades Department of the AFL-CIO — Label Letter — is very helpful. I go to its Do Buy feature for seeking out vendors. For instance, need a small gift for a child? Good ol’ Golden Books are union-made. (I always thought the Poky Little Puppy was a little, er, wobbly.) UUA GA attendees note: Powell’s, the “city of books,” is a Portland, Oregon feature with a unionized staff that knows its stuff.

The November/December 2006 issue is helpful for deciphering clothing labels.

Go to the Newsletter pulldown menu at UnionLabel.org.

GA 2007: Unionized hotels

According to Hotel Workers Rising, a campaign of UNITE HERE!, the following Portland, Oregon hotels have unionized workers (direct link):

Portland Hilton
921 SW Southwest 6th ave
Portland, OR 97204

The Benson Hotel
309 SW Broadway
Portland, OR
Phone: 503-228-2000

The Paramount Hotel
808 SW Taylor
Portland, OR 97205
Phone: 503-223-9900

The Hilton is an official UUA hotel. I think it’s where I stayed in Portland on Day Job Business and liked it very much: not unreasonably priced, either.

GLBT readers note SleepWithTheRightPeople.org, “an alliance of the LGBT community and UNITE HERE!” for more information and (I think) a perfectly fair and moderate tipping guide.