Do you ‘look for the union label’ on nonprofit solicitations?
Images: ILGWU

“Look for the union label!” Remember that little ditty on TV that promoted consumption of union-made goods and products? It’s good advice, whether you’re purchasing a car or appliance, clothing, food, or drinks. Consumers have tremendous power to affect the common good by focusing their buying habits on union-made, union-grown, union-marketed products. Employers will eventually become more favorable to unionization when they see their unionized competition is gaining on them owing to popular favor.

Maybe the same principle can be applied to organizations that solicit our financial support—healthcare institutions and advocacy groups, human rights, arts, environmental, religious, gun control, voting rights, etc.

If the United States did what no other country had ever managed to do—create a solidly middle-income society in the post-WWII decades (although with some major racial and regional gaps that cannot be ignored)—the explanation is inescapable: Unionization in major industries allowed a single earner to support a family, access a good healthcare plan for the whole family, purchase a home and a car, take an annual vacation, send the kids to summer camp, set something aside for their music lessons and higher education, take in a movie and go out to a restaurant, celebrate a gift-filled Christmas, and count on a generous pension for their retirement years.

Every American knows this is very far from the reality of the present day, as union density has declined precipitously—one reason why so many women have entered or returned to the workforce (though I’m hardly advocating for a throwback to the male-dominated head of household days).

Yet if you look around the world, there are many countries that have retained most or all of these critical elements of a happy, healthy life. Those are still high-density union societies with strong labor and left parties ensconced in their social democratic governments. Though I’ve not conducted a deep study of this, I suspect that in such societies, where labor and human rights have a more secure foundation, where healthcare, education, and housing are guaranteed rights, where income is distributed more equitably, there is far less charitable solicitation, as social needs are generally already met.

In the U.S., Democratic Party candidates obey a rule (written or unwritten I have not been able to determine) that they must use union printers on their campaign literature. What would a Democratic campaign be, after all, if it did not have union members’ support?

The Biden-Harris administration’s explicit pro-union focus, support for a $15 minimum wage, and the president’s eagerness to sign the Protect the Right to Organize Act (the PRO Act) are all promising developments the labor movement is watching closely and encouraging. With the administration’s labor and family policies, child poverty could be slashed in half virtually overnight.

Charitable, religion-based, and non-profit organizations could be said to have a special interest in promoting union labor. Let’s take, for example, groups that focus on hunger, nutrition, diet, and food quality and access. If the United States were a more equitable society with at least the union density we had in the 1950s (about a third of all workers), more of our population would enjoy so-called “middle-class” wages and lifestyles—though I would prefer to call them decent working-class conditions, at least within a capitalist frame. Fewer schoolchildren would be hungry, people could be better educated as to food choices, workers on the job would have adequate, regularly scheduled lunch and snack breaks, and locally sourced food would be more the norm. There would be fewer homeless, hungry people on our streets if the economy were humming along more productively.

Extrapolate this scenario to health care, housing, education, racial justice, and the truth of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s saying comes into ever clearer view: “We all do better when we all do better.”

Cynical minds will wonder if such charitable organizations really do want to eradicate, or even lessen, the social problems they address—it might put them out of business! (Organized religion has shriveled in the “welfare state” societies as social needs are largely met by government.) But for the sake of this research, let’s pass on such speculations.

My questionnaire

I recently sent out a questionnaire to about 50 different organizations from whom I regular receive solicitations. “I am a donor to many non-profit and public-spirited organizations,” I wrote by way of introduction, “and I notice that some organizations make a point of using a union printer (and displaying the union bug) for their promotional materials, including return envelopes, and some do not.”

I had already collected samples of their return envelopes, so I pretty much knew in advance about their decision on union printers, but I wanted to hear their own voices. I asked about principle, frequency, reasons for their decision, and whether or not they receive feedback from their members and donors one way or another.

Many of the organizations not showing the union bug have strong liberal-progressive, even in some cases specifically Democratic Party or union affiliations, such as The Actors Fund of America, The Carter Center, City of Hope, Human Rights Campaign, The Metropolitan Opera, National Organization for Women, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood, Public Citizen, Smithsonian, Vote Smart. Apparently, in those groups that solicit our contributions, no one is wondering, “We’re asking working people to support us, but will they notice that from our printed materials it appears that we don’t support them?”

None of these jobs carry the union label.

I guess I was naïve: Of course I wouldn’t hear from the majority of my pool of sources, the non-union employers. Why would they make a public admission of it, especially to a journalist from People’s World? Although I did get a couple of interesting responses. From Everytown for Gun Safety: “Thank you for contacting us. Due to immense email volume, we are unable to reply to all messages.” And from Debra at AARP: “Thank you for contacting AARP and for your interest in advertising with AARP.  I’m happy to help you with that.” My inquiry prompted inclusion on AARP’s new contact email list.

I did hear from another non-union employer, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, though I suspect that Brenda Jones, Senior Director of Public Affairs, may not be that knowledgeable about the donation and membership appeals her group issues (that would be the “Creative Department,” from whom I have not heard). Nevertheless, Ms. Jones was personally friendly and supportive, and made some good observations about the current state of printing. “I very rarely use printers these days,” she replied, “but the union label is quite important to me. I think most people, especially young people, don’t realize the importance of unions and may not even check to see whether a printer is a part of the union or not. And increasingly more things are printed through online sources like Sezzle, Paperless Post and others. Most people would never think to ask whether those online companies like Amazon, American Greetings or ebook publishers use union printers.”

Finding the union bug

If many donors don’t notice whether or not their solicitations carry a union bug, it’s sort of understandable. It could be easy to miss unless you’ve trained your eye to spot it. It may be printed too tiny to read easily, and there’s usually a number to the right of the bug. That indicates which particular printshop unit produced the publication.

People’s World carries the union label of Chicago News Guild Local 34071.

The Printing, Publishing, and Media Workers Sector of the Communication Workers of America and the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters make up the Allied Label. “Look and ask for the International Allied Printing Trades Council label – the familiar ‘bug’ – on all printed material,” says Allied Label. “It’s your assurance of quality and craftsmanship. The bug also guarantees that the men and women who work on your printed materials receive good wages and benefits in plants that practice responsible labor-management relations. When you patronize the union plants listed in this directory, you are helping to maintain the union advantage in the printing industry.” Go here for more information on where to find a union printshop near you. Most states have at least one, but with the advances in digital technology, in most cases, the job can be done virtually without physically visiting the printshop offices.

None of these have a union label.

The Allied Label may not be the only official union bug you see on some printed materials, however. Some unions have their own print operations and put their own logos on their work, such as USW, UAW, and IWW.

Other adornments on the print job that could be confusing include the BBB (Better Business Bureau) logo as an “Accredited Charity,” the “Four Star Charity” logo of Charity Navigator, the recycling logo, and the legends “Printed on recycled paper with soy-based inks,” “printed with earth friendly water-based inks” (or “vegetable-based inks”), “printed on recyclable paper with environmentally friendly ink,” “100% recycled paper 30% post consumer” (or 10%), “Recycle please,” “Your stamp on this envelope is an additional contribution to our work. God bless you!” None of these are union labels—perhaps they even serve as something of a distraction from the non-employment of a union printer.

Union printers do not limit their services to the kinds of promotional literature we see in our mailboxes most days. They also produce promotional items and t-shirts, business stationery, web design and hosting, silk screen printing, lithographs, signs and posters, banners, graphic design, mailing and sorting, and much more.

Nor any of these.

Responses from pro-union employers

My survey did elicit some responses from pro-union employers. Veda Banerjee wrote to me from the California League of Conservation Voters: “We use Dakota Press for all our printing purposes. They are local to the Bay Area and our values align.” Dakota is a union printer and women’s business enterprise committed to minority suppliers and green business.

The most complete answers to my questionnaire came from Cathy Renna of the National LGBTQ Task Force, who wrote that her organization uses a union printer “most of the time. Miami is the only exception,” and that using one is a matter of “principle.” I asked my respondents to explain their choice. Renna said, “We are a union shop—our non-mgmt employees are members of SEIU. We are also a progressive organization that believes in unions.” She reports not receiving any feedback from members and donors on this issue.

Ari Boyajian of Image Cube, a union print house since 2016 in Los Angeles, enlightened me to something I hadn’t thought about before. Their website indicates they do a lot of campaign print work. I asked if Republicans use union printers. “No, they do not, they prefer not to. We do some printing for them, but very, very rare, but they ask that the union bug be removed.” Although he did tell me about a collector’s item on his wall, a campaign poster for Richard Nixon which sports a union bug.

And in some other cases, such as the printing he does for City of Hope, the huge medical research and treatment center in Duarte, Calif., where staff are organized into the National Nurses Union and SEIU, they don’t ask for the bug. “Most businesses don’t care for it,” Boyajian says, probably out of concern that some of their clients and donors may not appreciate unions or may feel their donor dollars are being unwisely spent on higher union printing. And yes, a union job can often be more expensive, because that contract includes a pay scale, vacations, sick and family leave, holidays, etc., that every worker should have but not all do.

Other causes I wrote to who do use union printing didn’t respond to my query, but I’d like to acknowledge them because I do appreciate their statement of principle: About Face, Bend the Arc, Common Cause, End Citizens United, Giffords PAC, Greenpeace, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Sierra Club California (but not the national Sierra Club), Union of Concerned Scientists, and Vote Vets. This is far from an exclusive list of pro-union charities.

I struggle with this issue. For me personally, it is not quite so open and shut as it might be for a Democratic Party candidate. These organizations that don’t use union printers do incredibly important work. Some of them are very close to my heart, like the ACLU or the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, American Foundation for AIDS Research, American Humanist Association, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Brady Campaign, Drug Policy Alliance, Earthjustice, Ocean Conservancy, Population Connection, and others I could name. Do I withhold my dollars over this complaint? Am I going to be a “single-issue” donor focusing not on the mission but only on union printing?

Sometimes I’ll return a donation and write, “I sure wish you’d start using a union printer—we’re all in this together, you know,” but feel I am talking to the wind. How do we build a movement that truly plants in the public mind the connection between unionization—in all fields—with social betterment overall? Perhaps it could even be proven some day that the extra pennies spent on union printing pay off because pro-union donors will answer approvingly.

Still, I look for the union label because I know that “We all do better when we all do better.”


Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon, People’s World Cultural Editor, wrote a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein and co-authored composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. He has translated all nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, available from International Publishers NY.