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Partnerships that Work: Consumer Brands Doing Right by Workers

As our country continues to fight its way out of the worst recession in decades, now more than ever, we shouldn’t lose sight of those companies who are doing right by investing in their employees and creating good American jobs. As consumers, we shouldn’t forget that we can show our support for these companies in the way we shop.

Over the past several years, American Rights at Work’s Socially Responsible Business Program has chronicled businesses around the country that are working successfully in partnership with their employees and the unions representing them. Though diverse in industry, size and location, each of these companies have one thing in common: They’re proof that long-term business success goes hand-in-hand with a workplace culture that fosters shared vision, trust, and respect among workers and management.

These responsible employers, big and small, deserve our recognition—and our business. As consumers, we can promote high-road business models and begin to rebuild our economy by rewarding positive labor-management partnerships every time we shop for goods and services.

To that end, this year we chose to turn our attention to companies with exemplary labor practices that market products to consumers. The latest consumer companies to be profiled in this Partnerships that Work series include CUTCO Cutlery Corporation, Monterey Mushrooms, and USA Coffee.

CUTCO Cutlery Corporation is a New York-based manufacturer of assorted high-performance cutlery with annual sales exceeding $200 million worldwide. By rewarding the commitment and productivity of its United Steelworker-represented workforce of over 400 workers, CUTCO manufactured and sold six million pieces of cutlery last year alone. The company can vouch for the lifetime guarantee it offers its customers thanks to its workforce’s commitment to craftsmanship and excellence.

A strong culture of partnership also drives the success of Monterey Mushrooms, the largest marketer of fresh mushrooms in the United States. At each of its 10 locations, the company, its workers, and the United Farm Workers (UFW) collaborate to streamline the production system for greater efficiency and continued profitability. With industry-leading wages and quality benefits – including family leave – Monterey’s workers share in the success they help create.

USA Coffee Company offers java-loving Americans with a truly sustainable product. The company supplies only U.S. grown, harvested, and roasted coffee beans, and also raises the bar by selling union-made coffee. With blends like the Union Roast, consumers are assured that the workers who plant, harvest, and process the beans earn a fair wage, have access to medical and retirement benefits, and have a voice on the job through a union affiliated with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

These three companies join a growing number of successful consumer businesses that are paving a high road approach to labor relations by partnering with workers and their unions.

AT&T, Inc., is a household name, yet the company doesn’t necessarily make headlines for its reputation as one of the largest U.S. companies committed to partnering with its employees. The telecommunications leader demonstrates a commitment to workers’ rights and having a voice at work through its neutrality agreement with the Communications Workers of America. This agreement allows employees in the wireless division the chance to vote on union representation without the company or the union disparaging the other, or using intimidating or coercive tactics. The company continually offers classes and workshops to its nearly 180,000 union-represented workers to invest their growth and development. To continue leading the industry in a very competitive field, AT&T management and workers hold a commitment to finding ways together to improve the company for customers and for the bottom line.

Successful partnerships come in all shapes and sizes. Ivory Leathers, a North Dakota-based manufacturer of American-made apparel, and its employees represented by the International Association of Machinist excel in an environment centered on mutual respect and trust. As a result of this partnership, management and labor have built this small business into a national purveyor of motorcycle and leather accessories.

Morton Williams Supermarket is a trailblazing employer in the retail food industry. The New York-based chain believes that in order to have a stable workforce, employees must be given access to affordable health care, fair pay, and a pension. In turn, the workers’ union, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), reciprocates by providing extensive health and safety training, a systematic approach to address issues of disagreement, and a loyal, veteran staff. Because of the strength of workplace relations, many employees have worked at the company for over 20 years.

Supermarkets are home to many products produced by companies engaged in successful partnerships with their workers, many of which pursue a positive alternative to the historically anti-worker farming model. One such company is Swanton Berry Farm where workers represented by the UFW contribute to the success of the trend-setting organic strawberry grower. As the first organic farm to recognize the union rights of its workers, Swanton encourages worker involvement and even developed a crop rotational program based on the feedback of its farmhands.

is another produce grower that’s redefining the way farm work is done. This leading producer of greenhouse tomatoes finds avenues for collaborating on business improvements with its UFCW-represented workers. In doing so, Eurofresh looks to its workers to take the lead on food safety training and maintenance, ensuring only fresh, healthy tomatoes make it to market.

Socially aware and savvy consumers know that their purchasing power can help encourage exemplary companies like those mentioned above continue value their workers, communities, and stakeholders.

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