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AFL-CIO Unveils Mail-Order Shopping Catalog

October 24, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The AFL-CIO is hoping a new mail-order catalogue devoted exclusively to union-made American products and offering prices comparable with those of retail discount houses will make manufacturers think twice about relocating their plants outside U.S. borders.

The Union Label Shopper, unveiled Thursday, also is aimed at countering a declining union influence in an expanding labor market by drawing attention to consumer as well as wage and other job benefits offered by organized labor.

″This country has lost hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs in manufacturing because of the horrendous trade deficits of the last five years,″ said Lane Kirkland, president of the 13.1 million-member labor federation.

″By encouraging the purchase of American-made products, the labor movement can help save jobs and encourage employers to keep their plants in this country,″ Kirkland said.

Under development the past 11 months, the catalogue is the latest step in a program begun two years ago to offer non-traditional union benefits for retaining present members and attracting new ones.

That effort, spawned by a critical re-examination by the federation of itself and its eroding esteem among the public at large, already includes discount credit cards and low-cost legal services.

Individual unions such as the International Ladies Garment Workers, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers and the United Auto Workers have been conducting union label public campaigns for decades.

Others, including the non-federated Teamsters, have launched massive public ″Buy America″ campaigns in the wake of rising trade deficits.

The shopper also represents the reverse of what labor leaders increasingly have recognized as generally ineffective ″negative″ campaigns to boycott products of companies perceived as having anti-union records.

″Frankly, we haven’t done very well with boycotts,″ said one labor official speaking on condition he not be identified. ″They’re difficult to implement and it’s hard to be fair. It often is a question of whether we boycott a company because it is not treating one union right when that could cost the jobs of other employees in different unions at the same company.″

The idea of a mail-order house devoted exclusively to union-made products was developed by Marc Schechtman, whose grandfather was a founding member of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers and whose father was the union’s chief accountant.

Schechtman said his company, American Union Shopper Corp. of Fairfield, Iowa, limited the catalogue to about 50 items - primarily kitchen appliances, linens and adult clothing - from about a dozen companies for a market test.

However, he said several other unionized manufacturers, after learning of the project, have asked to have more than 1,000 of their products included in the next catalogue.

About 175,000 of the catalogues have been printed, and company officials hope soon to reach all 18 million union households in the United States.

While the marketing is initially being targeted at union members, anyone can purchase items from it.

If the program is successful in a market test among union members, Schechtman said, his company wants to expand it through ″roll-out″ bulk mailings blanketing all households in heavily unionized areas of the country.

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