8 Ways to Support Workers From Where You Are

No matter your workplace or community, you can take steps to make workplaces safer by speaking up and voting with your dollars.
a fruit market in NYC. Close up is a stand of nectarines under a red, yellow, and blue sun parasol. In the background are more fruit stands and onlookers.
Source: Unsplash

For 40 years, Green Americans have been supporting workers. You’ve signed petitions to pressure and change companies with poor worker safety practices. You’ve joined picket lines with loud voices and poster board to spare. And you’ve incorporated activism into your own workplaces. Safe and healthy workplaces that pay good wages are essential to building a green economy. There are so many ways to support workers today, whatever you have to spare (time, money, or energy), and wherever your talents lie, we can all play a role in creating a healthier, safer, better-paid workforce. Here are eight ways to build a better world of work.

1. Buy from Unionized Shops

Unionized stores and union-made products mean workers have more power over their pay, safety, and other important issues. Many big box supermarkets are unionized and label local foods—which are more likely to adhere to safe labor standards than products made in other countries. While no union is perfect and even good working conditions can be improved, supporting unions provides a way for workers to establish a better balance of power for their protection and rights. Green America supports striking Starbucks workers, who have made a map of unionized and non-unionized shops—check that out at everyunionstarbucks.com.

If you are curious about whether a store is unionized nationally or at a local chain, do an internet search of “[store name] union,” and that should help you out. Of course, many stores don’t have unions because they may not have enough employees, they may not yet be organizing, or not yet successful in forming a union. Many corporations actively fight against unionization, but when you have a chance, choose unionized. Use Labor411.org to find unionized shops across industries.

2. Support Union Efforts

When workers go on strike—listen to them and support them with your dollars. That means lately, shopping at locally owned coffee shops when Starbucks is striking (or ones that have unionized). When Amazon workers are striking, do your best to avoid shopping from there. In fall 2021, Kellogg’s workers went on strike, so that would have been a good time to try a different cereal brand. After 11 weeks, 1,400 affected workers came to a new five-year contract with the company, which meant a successful strike, as it increased wages and benefits for the workers.

Whether a local or national company, always avoid crossing a picket line—crossing a picket line means going into the places that have striking workers and spending your money there anyway, which communicates not agreeing with what workers are asking for.

If you want to elevate your support, talk to people in the picket line and volunteer your time to join them if you can—adding your voice to the choir is free! If you have money but not time to contribute, dropping off snacks, water, hand warmers, or sunscreen will help those on the picket line stay stronger, longer.

“You can even participate in a community delegation to tell management the concerns from a community/consumer perspective,” says Jean Tong, Green America’s labor campaigns director. “It’s powerful stuff. Strikes have been won with that strategy.”

3. Share Information

When you hear of a worker strike or a petition to improve conditions for workers, share that information. Use social media to share posts, or bring up worker concerns and strikes in conversation. Many people may not know the what of a particular strike—what the workers are facing and fighting for. Sharing this information is a powerful way to get more people to support workers.

4. Ask Where Your Officials Stand

Elected leaders have an outsized say on state and local labor laws. Write an email, make a call, or go to a town hall with elected leaders and ask where they stand on labor issues, like union pushes and fair wages. If they answer in support of workers’ rights, hold them accountable when they get a chance to take action on these topics. If they answer in a way that is more supportive of corporations than workers, it may be time to start a pressure campaign to get them to reconsider their stance.

5. Vote Your Proxies

If you own stocks in individual companies or through mutual funds, you receive a proxy ballot every year to vote in advance of the annual shareholder meeting. Check those proxies for labor-related and other green issues and make sure you or your financial manager vote to voice your opinion. Many shareholders calling for labor rights can work.

6. Make Calls to Companies

When you learn that one of the companies you regularly purchase from pays low wages or treats workers poorly, make a call or write a letter. Let them know that you’ve been a loyal customer, but that you won’t return until they change their practices.

7. Buy US-Made, When You Can

“One of the most important ways to support workers and the labor movement is to know the workers as part of your community, that way when there are issues, it is not just a worker issue but a community issue,” says Tong. “The other huge benefit of supporting local-made is obviously reducing carbon emissions.”

Of course, innumerable amounts of goods are manufactured abroad and shipped to the states. But when possible, buy products that were manufactured in your community, your state, or your local region. The US has stronger labor laws than some (but not all) other countries, which means workers are more likely to be paid fairly, have the right to strike, or at least speak their mind. The extra expense of US production is a major reason why many companies outsource, but it is also a reason that workers might be treated more fairly. And, of course, when workers in your community are looking for support in seeking justice or better conditions, you’ll be more likely to hear about it and be familiar with it, to support them from the start.

When buying from overseas, look for credible certifications, from Fair Trade America, Green America’s Green Business Network, and World Fair Trade Organization. For larger apparel companies, look for companies that take part in the International Accord.

8. Buy Green

Green businesses represent the next evolution of the economy—they are designing products, services, and workplaces with people and the planet at the forefront. Green America works to create a supply of businesses worthy of the green economy—both by pressuring bad actors to do better and by uplifting small green businesses through our Green Business Network. The Network provides resources for businesses, has certification standards across over 30 industries, and provides media coverage to small businesses around the world.

From Green American Magazine Issue