Shopping …

as if the union mattered

Is it possible to buy union-made in the United States?

Unless you can buy your true love a Boeing jet — or put a Freightliner truck under the Christmas tree for your kids — it’s not easy to find holiday gifts made by union workers in the United States of America.

Some union members may remember that 30 years ago, most consumer products sold in the United States said “Made In USA,” and it was possible to “Look For The Union Label” in clothing, as a garment workers union television ad urged.

Today, 96.4 percent of apparel sold in the United States is imported, and the same trend is under way for most non-food goods consumers purchase.

“We’re drowning in imports, a lot of them made by workers trapped in miserable poverty,” says Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee, an independent human rights group. “We like to shop, and all of us like bargains,” Kernaghan said. “But we don’t want a bargain if it’s based on exploitation.”

At the point of purchase, how can todays workers-as-consumers be sure workers-as-producers didn't breathe chemicals 12 hours a day for 30 cents an hour in a foreign sweatshop? How can they vote with their dollars for good jobs and decent wages, and not reward companies that show no loyalty toward their workers?

It turns out there are very few resources to help answer this question. The AFL-CIO has a list of union-made U.S.-made goods at But after the AFL-CIO split this summer, it purged from the list goods made by workers in unaffiliated unions. That was most of the list.

By and large, most companies are anti-union, and even companies that have unions are often scheming to get rid of them. For example, no moral scruple held back union airlines in the last few years from making slash-and-burn demands for concessions. But flying a union airline still puts more money in other workers’ pockets than flying a non-union one. Don’t think of it as rewarding the company, says Matt Bates, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO’s Union Label & Service Trades Department. Think of it as supporting workers.

Shortlist: A union shopping guide

Shopping union is easiest for those who have Internet access and are comfortable with buying online. Several web retailers have exclusively union-made clothing:,, and And the remainder of the AFL-CIO list is at

Where to buy

Very few retailers are union. But in grocery, most Fred Meyer, Safeway, and Albertsons stores in Oregon have workers represented by UFCW Local 555. Not all stores are union, and even within union stores, there are sometimes non-union departments. If you want to be sure, ask the worker.
No department store in Oregon is union, though in Longview, Washington, Macy’s is union.
No big-box discounter in Oregon is union, and some are notoriously anti-union, like Wal-Mart. Among discounters, Costco pays workers the best wages and salaries.
Portland-based Powell’s Books is the only major bookstore in America that is union; workers there are represented by ILWU Local 5.

What to buy


Portland-based Danner Boot is union, represented by UFCW 555.
Carhartt work clothes are union-made in the US, but other Carhartt apparel is not.
If anti-corporate sneakers are your thing, a union company in Portugal manufactures the Blackspot Organic Hemp Sneaker. They look like Converse and sell for $74 a pair online.
Just one major company manufactures and retails clothing in the United States: American Apparel, which proudly advertises that its clothing is logo free and sweatshop free. It sells its clothing online and at over 100 stores around the U.S., including two in Portland. But it’s not union. UNITE HERE organizers approached its Los Angeles plant in 2003 and were rebuffed by a standard-issue management campaign against the union. UNITE HERE never got enough support to ask for an election.
It may still be possible to find some New Balance athletic shoes made in the United States, but they’re assembled by non-union labor.
Phillips Van Heusen still employs 500 union workers in Alabama, though most of its products are made abroad. If you find a Phillips Van Heusen shirt that’s Made In USA, you can find the union label at the bottom.


Generally, all of the major airlines are at least partially union, while none of the smaller discount airlines are union. Amtrak is union. Greyhound busted its union 15 years ago.
Major hotels in major cities are sometimes union. Many hotels in Las Vegas and Hawaii are union. Three hotels in Oregon are union, all in Portland: the Benson, Hilton, and Paramount.
UNITE HERE, which represents hotel workers, maintains a searchable list.


Movies are largely made union and shown non-union.
In professional sports, players are union, workers are non-union.
Music is largely non-union, except for symphony orchestras, such as the Oregon Symphony.

other stuff

Cookware: Pyrex
Toys: Hasbro
Firearms: Remington, Colt, Winchester
Games: Parker Brothers games like Scrabble
Glassware:Fiesta, Thermos
Candy: Russell Stover, See's Candies, Godiva Chocolates
Wine: Companies that sell union-made wines include Mondavi, Columbia Crest, Chateau St. Michelle, Snoqualmie, and Gallo.

“Most of what labor does is leveraging the supply of labor and bringing power to bear at the point of production at the factory or office,” Bates said.“But there’s also a consumer side, mobilizing the public broadly to spend their shopping dollars in ways that support good jobs.”

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