How to not cross the picket line if you absolutely need to buy something

I’m not here to wax poetic about anything so I’ll try to keep this short. (If you’re just here for the tips, skip to “The Tips! The Tips!”) I’ve been very privileged in certain ways my whole life, but escaping an abusive household doesn’t come without costs. I’m familiar with the struggle of hiding money, scraping together every dollar to pay bills and keep my own apartment, jobs with inconsistent or no benefits, overtime that can be presumptuous and annoying at best or exploitative at worst.

I am extremely fortunate to not be in that position today, but it’s unfortunate that I’ve reached my 40s without having any real opportunity to be part of a union. I often think Old Millennials (and probably some Young Gen Xers) got the short end of the stick on this one because we had to come up through a time when the Olds destroyed whatever was left of unions, and before the Youngs brought back unions. By the time the Youngs brought back unions, no corporation wanted somebody like me—a leader and a manager—to be “in the union.” That kind of thing is never allowed, so I’ve always been forced to be on the outside whether I want to or not.

But I have family members who are union members—most notably my 95-year-old teacher-for-life grandmother who proudly continues to tell, to this day, of all the things her teachers’ union fought for that made her life as decent as it is today. And by “decent,” she means that she gets a pension and a social security check that that can cover the mortgage to her tiny condo and feed herself & her cat. I help her out with some things and she relies on other family sometimes. She’s very grateful for her teachers’ union and she continues to fight hard for what she knows is right on behalf of others every single day of her life.

So, as such, even though I’ve never been fortunate enough to truly be part of a union, I’ve been raised to know better than to cross a picket line for any reason. I never have and I never will.

The Strike

Many of you already know about the Wirecutter Union Strike on Black Friday. You can go to their website to read about it, along with testimonials from staff about why they are planning to strike or support the strike.

I can’t and won’t speak on behalf of the union even though much of my own staff is part of it, as it came into being fully after I left Wirecutter. What I can say is that during my two years working to transition Wirecutter under The New York Times as Editor-in-Chief, I was forced to waste a lot of my life spinning wheels and doing Office Space-style busywork in order to achieve even the smallest pay increases for my staff—whether for a huge reason or a small reason, the level of effort on my part somehow only compounded on itself until requests that had been in progress for 4-6 months or more could still be dragging on with no resolution, and me continuing to lose more and more of my spirit every day. Anyone at the corporate level might say that there are budgets to work within, yes, but most people also do not know the realities of transitioning a functioning, cash-positive startup into an existing corporate entity with thousands of employees and bad HR structures and old processes that many folks at the top openly acknowledged were old and bad.

Without getting into the real mud, it’s a Sisyphean quagmire of logic and actions. People who work in corporate environments know it well. Before Wirecutter, I was a key writer and editor at another startup, Ars Technica, which got bought by Condé Nast, so I very much knew it. And I know that some of the people who worked directly with me on things like people’s pay at WC/NYT are laughing to themselves right now as they read this paragraph, knowing how many people’s salaries (our own!) who we paid to sit in glass-paned meeting rooms for hours every week, month, or year to argue over a few thousand dollars here and there. Pocket change.

The Deals

Most Black Friday “deals” on this earth are total crap. We all know it, yet we all waste time and energy thinking like there’s still going to be some good stuff. And sometimes—like, occasionally—there is. That’s where Wirecutter’s original Black Friday deals philosophy came from, because I wrote it myself in the winter of 2013. It was a service to readers so that you all, readers of the Internet, don’t have to waste your own life dealing with thousands of “deals” that aren’t even really deals, but crappier products, or products that were marked up before being marked back down, or whatever.

So, sometimes it can be easy to say “I don’t shop on Black Friday anyway!” which I have been guilty of, and will probably continue to be guilty of. And I have that privilege, because I can buy all that same crap at at different times, and *gasp* I don’t even technically need the discounts. (Although I will admit, the Chinese side of me is very displeased with this situation.)

Not everybody has the privilege of being able to stand up and say they won’t cross a picket line when they see a $600 item for 50% off on an Amazon Lightning Deal, though—especially if they don’t make a lot of money and have been saving up for that item, or they have a lot of family members to support and need to stretch every dollar. Some parts of my family are “fancy” and some parts are very much not, and there are lots of people in between. Even some of the people I know might have a hard time saying they won’t try to save $$$$ on big ticket items on Black Friday. For more on this, I like this article by Racked from 2017: Stop Shaming Black Friday Shoppers.

The tips! The tips!

So after saying I wasn’t going to go long on this post, here are my two easy tips for not crossing Wirecutter Union’s picket line on Black Friday (or anytime in the future when the need arises).

If you see an amazing deal on Amazon that you think you’ll die without executing on, consider these two effective tools for getting what you need without crossing the picket line, which in this post, means not using an affiliate link to make a purchase through Wirecutter on or around Black Friday:

  • Look for the deal on the item elsewhere. Most Big Box stores price match automatically, so if you see something on Amazon, you can probably find it at Best Buy, Walmart, or elsewhere for the same price. If not, if you ask them, they will usually give it to you at the Amazon price.
  • Most people don’t know that Amazon Smile, the mechanism that lets you donate a portion of your shopping to charity, is an either/or choice when it comes to “giving” the money to Wirecutter. Let me phrase that another way: many people used to ask me, when I was EIC, whether they could sign up for Amazon Smile while also supporting Wirecutter, and the direct answer to that question is no. Smile just takes that same cut that would go to any business whose affiliate link you clicked on and gives it to the charity of your choice. Everybody who knows me knows that I try to donate generously to charity; as minor as it is, I use Amazon Smile these days when I have to shop there, and you can choose the charity that your money goes to.

Finally, I really want to take this opportunity to recommend the book, The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap by journalist Gish Jen. In addition to offering clarifying reflections on some of the elements of what made Wirecutter special in the past, it’s also an incredible big-picture read for the state of the current world and functioning among your fellow friends, family, and colleagues. Go read it.

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