This week, during a speech about poverty, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez praised Costco, a union store, for its business practices, which continually pay its employees living wages, and continue to yield profits. According the Huffington Post, Perez joined the long list of Costco admirers when he stated that Costco proves the notion of the service industry having to adhere to a minimum-wage business model to be wrong, and “phooey”.
Secretary Perez is right–in an industry that employs millions of working poor, whom struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis, Costco is a shining light. The wholesale retailer is known for low employee turnover, thanks to its wages that allow people to actually make a living, and its health benefits. Costco values its workers–without them, the company couldn’t be the success that it is. These ideals are embodied in Costco cofounder Jim Sinegal and former CEO. In his speech, Secretary Perez remembered:
“I went to a [Costco] grand opening in Northern Virginia. The woman who was the manager at that store, she started out pushing carts, to use her term. And the remarkable loyalty that they have to Jim is a function of the fact that he categorically rejects the notion that, ‘I either take care of my shareholders or my workers’. That is a false choice.”
But part of the reason Costco’s workers are making good wages and receive benefits is due to the fact that over 15,000 of its workers are unionized. Organized by the Teamsters, Costco is union-friendly and meets workers on an even playing field when it comes to bargaining, and as union members, they have a say in the terms and conditions of their employment. For more than 20 years, they have stood together to ensure their rights as workers are protected.
The union-difference is huge. UFCW members work at grocery stores, retailers, and packing and processing plants all across the country. As union members, they are able to stand together and bargain for decent wages that allow them to feed their families and pay their bills, unlike Walmart, which pays such low wages that many of its associates must choose between shelter or food. Union jobs are good, middle class jobs, that provide healthcare, sick-leave, and retirement benefits. When workers stand together, like at Costco, or at UFCW shops like Kroger and Macy’s, they have a powerful voice that can stand up to that of the company.