Sometimes a purchase requires taking a stand

We have a little time. Maybe we won’t have to decide at all.

Would you cross a picket line to buy groceries?

It’s been almost a week since grocery workers in Snohomish, King, Pierce and Kitsap counties voted to strike if they aren’t offered a contract to their liking.

Results of the vote by workers at Safeway, Fred Meyer, QFC and Albertsons stores were reported Thursday, with 98 percent in favor of authorizing a strike. Tom Geiger, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, said Tuesday that bargaining sessions with the employers are scheduled for Oct. 10 and 11.

So we don’t have to decide about crossing picket lines — yet.

Even so, I’m considering where to shop if my regular stores end up with pickets outside and replacement workers inside. I have thought about Trader Joe’s, the Sno-Isle Natural Foods Co-op, and in a pinch maybe WinCo. You won’t catch me wandering the aisles of Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest grocery chain.

The workers in contract negotiations include those from the United Food and Commercial Workers locals 21 and 367 and the Everett-based Teamsters Local 38.

Sticking points, Geiger said, include no health coverage for those working fewer than 30 hours per week, holiday pay cuts and no increase in hourly wages. Workers are also pushing for paid sick days, he said.

Geiger expects the employers to present “a serious set of proposals” during bargaining later this month. He said any strike would not necessarily hit all the big chains at once.

Stepping back from my high-and-mighty plans to shop with a conscience, I realize it’s folly to believe I’m doing the best I can. As ethical as we try to be, buying and investing is loaded with contradictions.

Reading the tags on my clothes, I see things made everywhere but the United States. A skirt and sweater I wore to work Tuesday were made in China. My Nike running shoes come from Vietnam. My son has a JanSport brand Gonzaga University sweatshirt, made in Cambodia. And the tag on a striped washcloth in my bathroom reads Pakistan, where a 2012 fire at a textile factory killed almost 300 workers — who, according to The New York Times, were trapped behind locked doors.

Watching “Roger &Me,” Michael Moore’s documentary about General Motors downsizing in Flint, Mich., I felt sorry for those auto workers who lost their livelihood. But do I drive an American car? Nope, mine was made in Germany.

I remember in the 1970s not buying grapes because of the awareness that Cesar Chavez, founder of what became the United Farm Workers, brought to the plight of farm workers. At the time, I knew little about those issues. People outside grocery stores with informational fliers proved to be influential.

When I was at the University of Washington, out-of-South Africa divestment movement was the big issue on campus. Protesters pushed for the university to dump its investments in that country, which was then under the system of racial segregation known as Apartheid.

What about my investments today? How ethically sound are they? Do you know what all is in your retirement fund?

The possibility of a grocery strike at least has me stopping to think: What am I buying? Where should I buy it?

I’m not the only one thinking about the grocery checkers, meat cutters and other workers in the stores where I shop. People from around the region are posting pictures of favorite grocery workers and messages of gratitude at a new website, standwithourcheckers.com.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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