When Adam Gomdah’s wife gave birth to their second child via C-section, his employer only gave him three days off.
Gomdah, who sells shoes at a popular, trendy shoe store chain in the city, also deals with an erratic work schedule that makes finding childcare and getting another part-time job difficult, as well as squeezing in classes for his master's degree.
And since he only makes the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, plus a 4 percent commission, he struggles to pay off his undergraduate student loans and support his family.
“Being in retail, we’re tired of hearing our employers say we are nobodies,” said Gomdah, who declined to identify where he works for fear of repercussions.
Retail is one of the city’s largest industries, with 326,570 people, or 9.8 percent of all private sector workers, employed there as of this May, according to the New York City Economic Development Corporation. But doing the job has its pitfalls.
Toys “R” Us, for example, which employs hundreds in the city, has faced legal trouble in Massachusetts for allegedly failing to pay earned vacation time in 2009, according to a report released Thursday by labor activists UnitedNY and Alliance For a Greater New York. Before that, in 1999, the company agreed to pay a $200,000 fine as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor for allegedly violating federal child labor laws.
Also on Thursday, a report from the National Employment Law Project claimed that 36.5 percent of retail workers nationwide earned fewer than $10 per hour, compared to 26 percent of all private sector workers.
And retail jobs are no longer the bastion of high school students or the uneducated. Many of those who work in retail, like Gomdah, hold college degrees.
“[Retail] is not just an industry where high school kids are working for spare change," said Paul Sonn, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project. "A lot of people depending on these jobs are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. There are also a lot of people working their way through college [and] older people who can’t afford to retire.”
When asked about good retail employers in New York, Sonn said Trader Joe’s and Costco both treat their workers fairly well while remaining profitable.
Where retail salaries fall
The median annual wage of a retail salesperson is $22,770, according to labor activists UnitedNY and Alliance for a Greater New York. See how this matches up against other traditionally low-wage jobs.
- Food prep, server, fast food: $18,520
- Home health aid: $18,950
- Cashier: $18,960
- Childcare worker: $26,240
- Security guard: $27,500
- Receptionist: $29,260
- Teacher assistant: $29,320
- Customer service representative: $36,910
Report names alleged bad apples
Thursday's report from UnitedNY and Alliance For a Greater New York highlights the plight of low-wage workers in the city.
In addition to Toys "R" Us, four companies named in the report were carwash chain Lage Management Corp., airline contractor Air Serv Corp., Brooklyn supermarket Golden Farm and power utility Consolidated Edison.
These companies don’t pay fair wages — as little as $4.86 per hour in the case of Golden Farm— and deny such things as meal breaks, paid sick leave and health insurance, the report alleges. Employees at Lage are also exposed to hazardous chemicals, claims the report.
Jennifer Lage, general manager of Lage Management and daughter of the owner, said the UnitedNY report was “simply not true.”
“Really, I think it’s an effort to turn all carwashing workers into due-paying members of a union,” said Lage, who pointed out that a recent routine audit from the New York State Department of Labor found no major violations.
For his part, Con Ed spokesman Allan Drury noted that the report referred to Con Ed contractors rather than company employees.
“We issue contracts for these services through a competitive bidding process to the lowest qualified bidder, consistent with good business practices,” Drury said.
Representatives at Air Serv, Toys “R” Us and Golden Farm could not be reached for comment.