Spotlight on Committees: What You Buy Matters


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Union Label Committees Help Us Make Smart Purchases

Local 686 Union Made Committee Chairwoman Mary Ward-Schiffer says more members are starting to look at other considerations besides price.

When you’re shopping, what you buy makes a difference when it’s union made. When you buy something made by a union worker in the U.S. you help keep America’s economy and workers’ rights strong. That’s why it’s important to check labels and keep up with the latest information about union-made products.

The UAW is committed to making sure members, our families and our local communities understand the importance of buying union-made products.

UAW President Dennis Williams says union jobs in America have been the bedrock of American prosperity. That only works if there’s a solid customer base for what they’re producing. It all works together and the UAW makes educating consumers a priority. “When people buy American-made, union-made products they’re investing in good jobs, healthy businesses and strong communities. They’re interconnected,” said Williams.

UAW locals have union label or union made committees to help educate members and make it easier to find union-made products. Local 686’s Union Made Committee works year-round to make it a priority for the local and its community. Local 686 members make aluminum parts at General Motors Components Lockport near Buffalo, New York. In addition to that hard work in the plant they spend a lot of time on union-made education and activities. On Aug. 26, they wrapped up the summer with the committee’s biggest annual event for 19 years — a car show, vendor fair and family day on the grounds of GM Lockport called Buy American Day & Family Day.

UAW Region 9 Director Terry Dittes says Local 686’s Union Made Committee is a great example of the UAW’s Buy American mission in action. “Region 9’s Local 686 at GM Lockport in New York does so much for the buy American, buy union-made education goal. They work hard at showing their local community that the UAW is about more than good jobs for their members. They walk the talk about how what you buy and who made it has a financial ripple effect in local communities,” said Dittes. “Local 686 does great work getting the word out.”

Mary Ward-Schiffer is the Local 686 Union Made Committee chair, a post she’s had for five years. The committee was started over 20 years ago by Sal Pusateri, who’s now president of the local’s retiree group. During Ward-Schiffer’s tenure as chair the annual Buy American Day has stayed front and center as the best exposure for the committee’s Buy American message. It’s there she sees the committee’s impact on local members and Lockport area residents.

Buy American & Family Day is a real community event with the public invited to participate.

“Someone will come up to me and say, ‘I was going to buy something foreign made and saw it wasn’t made here so I put it back and went looking for something made in the USA.’ That is awesome. I mean, wow. It’s a big deal,” said Ward-Schiffer. “Or they’ll say, ‘I never even thought about buying union made until I heard you guys talking about it. I was just looking at how much it costs.’ I say look closely. Lots of times things made in the USA are better quality and will last longer so it’ll be cheaper in the long run.”

Buy American Day & Family Day is a real community event. “It’s about community and the public is welcome. We make sure there’s fun things for everyone and try to get people in the community to show off what they do. We had 25 vendors this year, food trucks, a DJ from the annual Lockport classic car show who advertises our event all summer long on his radio show. We’ve got basket raffles, we had 230 classic cars this year, horseback riding, Lockport firefighters come out with their truck, we had bounce houses for the kids, a dunk tank, ice cream parlor, hot dog stand, candy vendors, 4-H kids brought animals, we had a police dog trainer, and area GM dealers bring their cars to display. All of it makes for a fun event with examples of products made with union labor,” Ward-Schiffer said. “We even encourage our vendors and contacts to buy from union shops when they can. When we talk with our vendors and develop relationships with them, we’re also getting the word out.”

An event this huge means the committee works year ‘round to produce it. They organize T-shirt sales, raffles and fundraising lunches, and coordinate union vendors and sponsors to participate and make donations. Their goal is to not only break even while educating, but have enough proceeds left over to make sure tomorrow’s consumers get the buy American message, too.

“Our committee sponsors two high school technology competitive robotics teams, the Lockport High School Warlocks and the Newfane High School Circuit Stompers, at the two closest schools to our plant,” said Ward-Schiffer. “We made enough to sponsor them with $2,000 for each club to buy American-made uniforms. We sign a contract with them to do that. Our goal each year is to make enough money to sponsor these clubs. We are so proud of that.” And then the kids do robotics demonstrations at the next year’s family day wearing those uniforms. “They used to wear foreign-made uniforms. If we can make the point about buying American when kids are young that can create a lifetime of making a difference for American, union jobs,” she said.

The event also raises money for local charities. “With the car show, with 70 trophies and awards, they have a $15 fee to enter. From 230 cars, we raised over $3,000 for the Western New York Heroes, a group that supports veterans in western New York state. We had a dunk tank that raised money for Niagara County’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and we donated to other charities, too,” said Ward-Schiffer.

The event is also a chance for the public to see UAW members at GM giving back to their community. “We invite the public to come and celebrate at our plant by opening the plant so they can see what UAW members do best — work together to help someone in need and teach them how they can do it, too. We always want people to feel like they can educate others about buying American, buying union, too, and that they can help their local community just with hard work and organizing. That’s what we did with the uniforms for the robotics teams. We showed the kids they’re supporting American workers in the textile business and, someday, they’ll have the money to buy an American-made car in this community.”

They also hand out the UAW Union-Made Vehicle Guide every year so folks know which vehicles are union-made when they make that big purchase. Ward-Schiffer says the guides (available for downloading at are popular and she hands them out all year long. “We put those in all our goodie bags for Family Day and we hand them out all year long. I keep a bunch with me and when I travel I hand them out, too. And when I travel and rent a car, I go to the rental counter, pull out my vehicle guide and say ‘I work at GM-UAW so I have to have one of the vehicles on this card. It works every time.”

How do you get educated about buying union-made products? Get online with the UAW vehicle guide, says Ward-Schiffer. You can also look up union-made products at

“Research what you want to buy whether it’s appliances, clothes, whatever. Find one that’s made here in the U.S. by union workers, appliances, clothing, whatever it is,” she says.

The committee’s mission statement is straightforward: A charitable community outreach committee dedicated to promoting the importance of purchasing American-made products and the way it impacts each of us, our local businesses and our country. Bottom line, says Ward-Schiffer, is bringing good jobs back to America.

Joan Silvi

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