Discontent for retail store employees

Protesters congratulated each other because they say no one else does.

New York City’s retail workers say they’re not getting a fair deal — and they’re not putting up with it any longer.

The Retail Action Project (RAP) took to the streets on Black Friday, most prominently along the massive 34th Street retail area.

They targeted stores that had been open on Thanksgiving, including KMart, Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret, the Gap, and Lord & Taylor, where they handed out holiday cards for customers to give to retail workers thanking them for their work that day.

“We had a lot of people taking them, and a great response from the workers,” Hamano said.

This kind of appreciation and consideration for the personal lives of retail employees is something RAP fights for regularly. RAP’s Sustainable Scheduling Campaign came about in response to a practice known as “on call scheduling” where retailers demand that workers be ready to come into work at a moment’s notice. This makes attending school, childcare or having a second job, incredibly difficult, Local 1S Retail Workers and Department Store Union’s Tara Martin said.

Some retailers also don’t give employees enough hours, in order to avoid having to provide benefits like insurance, Martin said, making a second job necessary, particularly in an expensive city like NYC.

“Scheduling is a really key piece in retail workers’ ability to make a livable wage,” Martin asserted.

Conditions improving?

Sherry Hamilton, who also works with the Retail Action Project and is a member  of the Local 1S, has been a Macy’s employee for fourteen years. According to Hamilton, Macy’s has a model scheduling policy, due to contracts negotiated by the Local 1S with Macy’s.

Macy’s employees give their availability for the next six months in advance, and they are shown their schedule in advance of about nine days, Hamilton says. At that time, the schedule is set in stone, and can only be changed if the sales associate agrees to the change.

Retail blackmail

Brittany Addison-Prescott, an employee at Quiksilver in midtown said scheduling blackmail is common in the retail industry.

“At Quiksilver, no one was asked, they just put us on the schedule. If you don’t sign up for overnight shifts, you’re told you will not have a job. It’s very common.”

She suffered from a seizure in September that she says came about from stress, after working as the lone visual merchandiser, doing a job meant for four people. She had to provide her employer with tons of paperwork on her return when she informed her supervisors she was still recovering from an illness and could not run up and down stairs for hours as she had before.

“I had no choice but to come to work because I was one month shy of having health insurance, and now I really needed it,” she said.    

Working on Thanksgiving

Stores that were open:

    Target
     Kmart
    Lord & Taylor
    Forever 21
    Banana Republic
    GAP
    Old Navy
    Ann Taylor
    Victoria’s Secret

Economic value

Some findings about retail workers and the economy:
   
Today, 1 in 10 New Yorkers work in retail. The industry has been a leader in New York City job creation, employing 310,728 people in this time of high unemployment and a shrinking private sector.
   
“Retail salesperson” has been a top growth occupation nationally, adding more new jobs than any other occupation during the 2010-2012 economic recovery.


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