Unions Target Retail Workers
With Macy’s last week avoiding a strike and Target winning an election that would have unionized its first store in the U.S., is the pressure to form unions at retail on the rise?
On June 16, Macy’s reached a tentative contract agreement with some 4,000 of its New York-area workers to avoid its first strike since 1972. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed but wages, benefits, hours and even restrictions on paid sick leave were issues on the negotiating table.
In what many considered a more notable development, workers at a Target store in Valley Stream, N.Y., voted – 137 to 85 – against forming a union on June 17. It would have been the first time workers have organized at the nation’s second-largest retailer.
Besides wages and benefits, union officials particularly focused on hours. The union said its typical contracts guarantee part-time workers 16 to 20 hours a week at a time while Target only schedules some for 10 hours. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Patrick Purcell, a spokesman with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, also noted that the irregular work schedules often meant veteran employees worked 10 or 15 hours a week while newer workers logged 35 hours or more.
Target executives countered that a union could not guarantee better pay or benefits and that the organization only wanted their dues. They also asserted that the union would make work rules more rigid and make it harder for Target to compete.
The union vowed to petition for a reelection and planned to push a "Target: Democracy" campaign at the chain’s other New York-area stores that would be coordinated with other union locals in major U.S. cities.
The vote came at a time when union membership has seen a steady decline over the last few decades. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, union members make up 4.7 percent of U.S. retail workers, cites Reuters. Retail’s high turnover rate is said to make it particularly difficult to organize them.
But union organizers claim, and some retail observers agree, that increased activism among workers reflects growing frustration at not getting better contracts despite improving retail figures, Cornell University professor Kate Bronfenbrenner told Reuters. Median hourly wages for retail salespeople have dropped 3 percent since 2006 adjusted for inflation and many workers face shrinking hours and rising benefit costs.
"Workers are seeing their hours getting cut and their take-home pay, while basic costs for gas and food are soaring," Burt Flickinger III, president of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group, told the AP. "They’re increasingly frustrated."
- Talks to continue past midnight to avert strike at Macy’s – Reuters
- Losing Vote at a Target in New York, Union Vows to Try Again – The New York Times
- Target : Union Facts – Target
- Target Change NY – United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500
- Macy’s, NY Union Come To Terms Over Tentative Contract – The Wall Street Journal
- NY Target store workers reject unionization – The Associated Press/Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Discussion Questions: Do you see unions becoming more or less attractive to retail employees in the near future? Does a labor organizing drive, regardless of the vote outcome, suggest that a retailer or particular store needs to make some changes?