Wherever the Road Leads

Which Came First?

The Chicken or the…Union?

I’ve stopped being surprised at the cost of everything here in Canada. I just accept it. I also accept that bargain shopping is a necessity and a way of life. And that’s shopping strictly for food. I wouldn’t dream of buying Chanel after-shave, a Chap’s sweater or a monogrammed dress shirt here. I’d have to get a part-time job. Even just for grocery shopping, I’m considering it.

I stopped in at the dry cleaners in the mall to ask how much they charger to launder dress shirts, out of curiosity. $1.80, I was told. Seems pricey, I thought as I walked out. I took a couple of steps then turned around and walked back into the store. “Is that PLUS (13%) tax?” I asked. “No,” she explained, “including tax.” She was very pleasant.

Well, she actually said, “incruding tax”, because she’s Chinese. But that’s not unusual here in Agincourt, where there are more Orientals at Kennedy Road and Sheppard Avenue than there are left in Hong Kong.

So, the laundry charge is $1.60 and $.20 tax. In Georgia, I was paying $1.25, no tax, so the increased price is not horrendous, like it is for boneless, skinless chicken breasts or Classico spaghetti sauce.

The “No Frills” store had Becel margarine on for $2 for a one-pound tub. I prefer, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” ($2.67) … well, actually I prefer butter but at $5 per pound, I’ll make do with vegetable oils, water, modified palm or palm kernels, and vegetable monoglycerides. (margarine).

I had a couple of items in my hand and headed for the cashier. This store does a land-office business and even the two Express Lanes had a ten-person back-up. I figured I would check out Wal-Mart first, and I put the items back on the shelf.

The local Wal-Mart is a smaller one that did not feature many food items. However, they are in the process of installing coolers and each trip, I find new products being sold at prices considerably lower than even the cheapest of the grocery stores. “I Can’t Believe..” was on for $1 per one-pound tub. Sold, and with only a few people in the express line in front of me.

I got to thinking that Wal-Mart will either take a great deal of the business away from the No Frills store, or they will have to price-match. But why is there such a price difference in food at Wal-Mart? It may be volume buying, it may be lower margins, it may be that they aren’t price-gouging. It may be that they are non-union.

Wal Mart is not without its share of blame for job loss, thinking of the textile industry in particular. Of course, neither are we, the Wal-Mart customers, without blame for continuing to buy lower quality t-shirts made in Pakistan, than the better quality material made in the textile mills that used to be a major industry in North Carolina. Now, all shuttered.

I thought back to an advertising campaign during the seventies when the garment worker’s union tried to fend off the off-shore competition. “Look for the Union label” was their cry. Thinking back, I wonder if calling attention to a Union was more of a liability than a feature.

This past weekend, the employees at a Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga Tennessee voted against bringing a Union into the plant. This was after, very unusually, Volkswagen management almost endorsed the Union by allowing them on-premise access to conduct their drive and pitch their case.


The Union is blaming the loss on a local Republican politician, while others are putting in serious doubt the future of the United Auto Workers Union. Some are saying that if the Union can’t get into the gift-wrapped Volkswagen plant, they’ll never get into any of the other eleven Southern Assembly Plants.

I think most will agree that there was a need for Unions and that they improved working conditions immeasurably. But perhaps they have gone the way of the newspaper as an information tool. Now, we get the news from television or the internet. You don’t have to wait on six o’clock these days, bring up Yahoo.com on your smart phone.

The workers at the Chattanooga plant make upwards of $19.50 per hour. Why pay Union dues at that pay rate? I thought the purpose of union dues were to go towards pensions and strike pay. In 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, the UAW made $49 million in political contributions. In 2012, the UAW spent just shy of $30 million on Lobbying and Political contributions according to their website.

That would stick in my craw if I belonged to the UAW. I wouldn’t mind chipping in to help out a fellow union-worker, but giving millions to a political party that I may not be in line with, or some fat cat already making an enormous salary, staying in a sumptuous Washington hotel suite wining and dining undeserving politicians while I’m either at the drive-thru window or opening a can of Beanie-Weenies? I don’t think so.

Unions are going the way of the dinosaur. And if Wal-Mart has its way, so will these Canadian grocery stores charging $11.36 per pound for boneless, skinless chicken breasts that are on sale at Kroger in the US this week for $1.99 per pound.

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