Get cozy at Providence GA

The General Assembly housing site opened today I was curious to see how much rooms would cost in Providence for General Assembly. (Not for myself: I’m staying with friends.) The city is rather thin for hotels, and when (in my day job) I sent people there, I thought the price was high.

But every room for the days of General Assembly (GA) proper were full. How? Ah.

Hotel rooms for General Assembly are currently sold out. Due to unforeseen circumstances, two hotels originally contracted (Renaissance and Hilton) are now involved in labor disputes. We terminated our contracts with these properties as the UUA supports fair labor practices. Dormitory style housing is still available at Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University click here. We are working to secure additional hotels in surrounding communities and will post as they become available. Be advised that housing is fluid, so please check back on a regular basis to see if rooms have become available.

As if the trouble with Phoenix GA hotels wasn’t heartburn inducing enough.

I feel bad for the GA office, but the policy is correct. If you had to make a short list of people whose well-being could be improved by ethical spending, hotel workers would be high on the list and they deserve our support.

This puts financially strapped attendees in a bind: do you go to the rejected hotels and side with management? I hope the core labor isseo can be resolved, but the least one can do is not cross the picket line early.

Also, take the dorm room option seriouly, if you hadn’t before. Oh, and if you got a room today, double up.

"Hard-working, tax-paying people like you"

This (ahem) alternate version of a 1970s AFSCME union spot has been circulating for quite a while, but may be new to you. It was clearly not meant to be aired.

It’s rude, funny and clearly sums why I support labor unions, especially for what would turn into low-paid work. It’s worth remembering that as a part of Martin Luther King’s legacy, notwithstanding those who would honor him in 2011. Unpaid Chinese stonemasons included.

Happy Labor Day.

The underwear post

I’m just going to grit my teeth, be grateful that the last two months of blog posts are back, summarize the facts of the substantive post I wrote today — now it’s gone! — and then back up my databases . . . .

I found some sweatshop-free underwear I like. Boxer-briefs. Not too snug. Made by this union shop in Pennsylvania and sold by this workers’ co-op in Maine. Be warned: they don’t have all colors (normally, white, black and grey) in all sizes.

They’re cheap if you buy your skivvies in a box, but expensive if you get them in plastic bags.  I like them, and recommend them.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written on the subject — links there for women, too — and here’s my most recent general clothing shopping guide.

Now, back to blog and church administration . . . .

Where I buy clothes

I like my clothes to be hard wearing, plain cut and American made, with union made as a plus. Also, I won’t buy any more leather. After years of searching here and there, suffering poor quality or poor service, I have settled on a few vendors, including one whose parcel arrived today.

For pants, jeans, white socks, polo shirts and some t-shirts, I choose All American Clothes; I may have also gotten my last jacket there. For oxford shoes, I go with Pangea‘s “No Bull” house line, and for more fun ones (European made) I go with Vegetarian Shoes sold by MooShoes. For dress shirts, I get Canadian- and union-made Forsyths from, but may branch out to Pennsylvania- and union-made Gitman shirts that I can get through a men’s store in Athens, Georgia, my college town. (And yes, they’re expensive. Indeed, the only place I’ve seen them otherwise for sale in a store is in Paris.) But the as much as I think ethical sourcing is important, so to is taking care in choosing and maintaining clothes. Cheap clothes, badly chosen, are no bargain.

Stand up for Hartmarx workers

My mother’s opinion of Hart, Schaffner and Marx suits — “they’re good” — has stuck with me, even though I was too young to wear (or buy) suits at the time. And because they exist, people like me, who buy whenever possible U.S.- and union-made clothing had a vendor. And they’re still good suits.

Well, they may be a victim of the “for me but not thee” economy. Wells Fargo (no relation) was bailed out — they even bought my bank, Wachovia — but Hartmarx is threatened with liquidation at their hands, and with it a thousand jobs.

Give Wells Fargo a piece of your mind. Patrick Murfin wrote about this and there are links from his blog. I think I’ll make a stink directly with Wachovia, who might have easily been flushed, but weren’t.

"Can my boss do that?"

Interfaith Worker Justice tomorrow launches a Web site called “Can My Boss Do That?” — a worker-oriented resource that uses a question-and-answer format to address labor rights. Some sections are state-specific. The facts can be a bit depressing, at first view. From a design point-of-view, I like how (1) it warns workers that employers might know that they if read it from work, and (2) how it formats properly for print-outs. Important for someone who prints and passes-along information.

I had a chance to talk to IWJ executive director Kim Bobo about the project and her organization a few months ago — before the scope of the economic meltdown was well known. I’m convinced that her mission against wage theft and other outrages against working people are going to become even more important in the coming months and years. If this subject inspires you, be sure to buy or borrow a copy of her book, Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid—And What We Can Do About It. (Powell’s World of Books link)

Unitarian Universalist interest: IWF gets or has gotten direct UUA, UUCF UUSC and Veatch funding. I consider that a serious endorsement.

Spread the word.

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.