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Macy’s Joins Other Retailers By Opening Earlier on Thanksgiving Day

via CNBC

via CNBC

Macy’s recently announced that for the second time most of its 800 department stores will be open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, two hours earlier than last year.

The decision by Macy’s and other retailers to open earlier on Thanksgiving is not without controversy, and many critics are saying that opening stores on a celebrated American holiday is cutting into family time and keeping retail workers away from their families. While many retail workers have voiced their concerns about erratic scheduling and being forced to work on holidays, there’s only one way to ensure that workers have a say in whether or not they work—a union contract.

Thousands of Macy’s workers across the country are members of the UFCW and have a union contract that protects them on the job. Thanks to this contract, union workers at Macy’s have a say in their own scheduling and can decide whether they’d rather stay home on Thanksgiving with their families or work extra hours and earn the holiday or premium pay they negotiated in their contracts.

With shoppers expecting the same availability from brick and mortar retailers like Macy’s as they do from Amazon, a union contract makes all the difference in the quality of jobs in the retail industry.

New Study Highlights Income Inequality and America’s Shrinking Middle Class

The middle class share of wealth has declined to unsustainable levels over the last three decades, according to a new report by economists Emmanuel Saez of the University of California Berkeley, and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics.

The report, titled, Wealth Inequality in the United States since 1913: Evidence from Capitalized Income Tax Data, shows that while America’s middle class is struggling, those at the top 1 percent—which includes about 160,000 families with net assets over $20 million in 2012—now hold 22 percent of our country’s wealth. In contrast, the wealth of the middle class fell from 35 percent in the mid-1980s to about 23 percent in 2012. According to the report, the current share of national wealth by the wealthy few and the declining share of middle class wealth is as unsustainable today as it was before the economic crashes of 2008 and 1929.

Income inequality has become part of the national conversation, and Saez and Sucman join the growing chorus of academics, economists and even some politicians who have warned that the widening gap between the wealthy few and the rest of us is having a detrimental effect not only on the economy, but our society as a whole.

A Labor Day Message from Bill Fletcher, Chair of the Retail Justice Alliance

As we approach Labor Day, the growing divide between the rich and poor continues to dominate the national conversation and, in some parts of the country, has led to social unrest.  While many politicians, academics and economists agree that our country’s wealth gap is bad for the economy and our society as a whole, there is only so much they can do.  Big players in the business world must address income inequality, as well.

There is no company more responsible for creating and reinforcing the wealth gap through its low-wage, part-time business practices than Walmart, our country’s largest private employer.  At the company’s own admission, the majority of Walmart’s 1.4 million workers are paid less than $25,000 a year. That means that too many Walmart workers are struggling to cover the basic necessities like food and shelter and are forced to rely on taxpayer funded supports like food stamps to survive.

Walmart can afford to pay its workers more.  The company makes between $16 and $17 billion a year in profits, and just six members of the Walton Family—heirs to the Walmart empire—have more wealth than 42 percent of American families combined.

Labor Day is a perfect moment for Walmart to lead by example and help ease the economic and social unrest that is plaguing our country. The Retail Justice Alliance calls on Walmart to change the way it does business so that Walmart workers can support their families and contribute to their local communities and economies.

Fighting for Family Values at Walmart

This post was originally featured on WhiteHouse.gov. Read more about Champions of Change here.

benet_holmesIt took a tragedy to make me a Champion of Change.

I work at a Walmart store in Chicago, and like many Walmart workers, I work hard to provide for my child. But it hasn’t been easy. I make $8.75 an hour, which is about $15,000 a year. My five-year-old son and I live with my parents because I can’t afford a place of my own. Almost half of my pay goes toward day care for my son, and—like many Walmart workers—I recently applied for food stamps just to make ends meet. While it’s always been a struggle to work at Walmart, I never spoke up until I suffered through one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life.

Last February, I was four months pregnant with my second child, and asked my manager for an assignment that required limited lifting because I knew that the work I was performing was putting excessive strain on my body. My manager refused my request, and the next day I had a miscarriage at work. When I asked for a leave of absence after my miscarriage, I was denied that request as well. I took time off anyway to recover from my miscarriage, and my manager attempted to discipline me for my absence.

Besides feeling betrayed by Walmart, I questioned how a company that champions family values could be so cold and heartless toward an employee that was dealing with the loss of a child. I knew I had to act because I didn’t want other women at Walmart to go through the same experience. That’s why I became a member of the associate-led Organization United for Respect Walmart (OUR Walmart). Working with OUR Walmart and women’s groups, I became involved with the “Respect the Bump” campaign to ensure that all pregnant women at Walmart are able to get light duty when they need it.

A few months ago, we achieved our goal when Walmart announced a major policy shift that will ensure that women with pregnancy-related complications are given some basic accommodations that will help them keep their jobs and provide for their families. While this policy does not go far enough to provide reasonable accommodations regarding physical demands for all pregnant women, it’s a step forward in protecting the jobs and the health of women and their babies. OUR Walmart members are also calling on Walmart to publicly commit to paying its workers a minimum of $25,000 a year, providing full-time work, and ending the company’s illegal retaliation against workers who are speaking out for better jobs.

I’m proud to be part of a movement that’s leading the fight to change the way Walmart does business, and hope my story will inspire others to take a stand for better workplace conditions even in the face of tragedy.

Bene’t Holmes works at a Walmart store in Chicago and is a member of OUR Walmart.

One Year Later, Garment Workers in Bangladesh Continue to Suffer

One year ago, on April 24, our sisters and brothers who worked at the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh were told to report to work in a building that had severe structural cracks and over 1,100 13913072815_7441033834_zworkers lost their lives when the building collapsed.

While decades of struggle by workers and their unions have resulted in significant improvements in working conditions, too many workers here in the U.S. and around the world continue to be killed on the job, or suffer from injuries, sickness or diseases in their places of work.  In Bangladesh alone, thousands of workers continue to work in dangerous conditions and for meager wages, and survivors of the Rana Plaza tragedy are still suffering from their injuries and loss of income.

One year after this tragedy, big retailers like Walmart have still refused to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Instead, the company has promoted its own alternative absent of enforcement mechanisms or meaningful worker input.

Workers everywhere deserve a safe place to work, and corporations like Walmart that exploit workers for profit and put them in danger must be held accountable.  As the Retail Justice Alliance observes the anniversary of this terrible tragedy, we also reaffirm our dedication to supporting workers here in the U.S. and around the world who are struggling to protect their basic rights – including the right to unite for safe workplace conditions and decent wages.

Rising Up in Retail Facebook Page Launched for Retail Workers

Raise-the-Wage-LogoAlthough the retail sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the United States and an important employer of minorities and women, many retail workers are struggling to survive in low-wage jobs with inconsistent hours and little to no benefits. To help retail workers connect with each other, a Rising Up in Retail Facebook page has been launched at http://on.fb.me/1mvS9o4 so that workers can engage in online discussions about the challenges and issues they face in their stores and share solutions.

The new Facebook page also serves as a place where union and nonunion workers can help each other improve their jobs and build a larger network of workers and activists who support retail worker issues.

 

Gap’s Decision to Raise Wages Is a Challenge to Walmart

The recent decision by Gap Inc. to raise wages for its 65,000 hourly retail workers serves as a challenge to Walmart.  Gap realizes that paying its hourly workers enough to support themselves is a good business investment that benefits the economy, and it’s imperative the Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, follow its lead.

IMG_9432-300x200As the largest private employer in the country, Walmart can afford to pay its workers more.  The company made $17 billion in profits in the last fiscal year, and just six members of the Walton Family—heirs to the Walmart empire —have a combined family fortune that is estimated to be over $144.7 billion.  Their net worth is already greater than the wealth held by 42 percent of American families combined.

Academics at the University of California-Berkeley estimated that Walmart could well afford a wage increase to at least $12.00 an hour for workers with minimal impact on consumer prices. And a report from the think tank Demos shows that Walmart could easily provide workers with full-time jobs that pay a minimum annual wage of $25,000 without raising prices simply by reinvesting the billions it now spends repurchasing its own stock.

The time is now for Walmart to show leadership and responsibility to its workers and our communities by following Gap’s example and publicly commit to raising wages and increasing access to full-time hours so that no worker at Walmart makes less than $25,000 per year.

 

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New Report Sheds Light on Extent of Poverty in the U.S.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA new report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that while a small fraction of people live in poverty for more than a year, a large percentage of people experience poverty for shorter time periods.  According to the report, nearly one third of the U.S. population — 31.6 percent — fell below the official poverty line for at least two months between 2009 and 2011, while 3.5 percent of the U.S. population remained poor for that entire period.

It’s clear that more needs to be done to help Americans get back on their feet and the retail sector is a good place to start.  According to the Department of Labor, the retail sector continues to play a major role in the U.S. economy—adding 55,000 jobs in December and an average of 32,000 jobs per month in 2013—but most of these jobs are low-wage or part-time positions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in the retail industry typically make about $25,000 per year, which is a far cry from the nation’s average annual pay of $45,790.

As our country observes the 50th anniversary of President Johnson’s anti-poverty campaign, the Retail Justice Alliance looks forward to another year of standing with retail workers across the country as they take the lead in the new war on poverty.

Urge Congress to Raise the Minimum Wage and Enact the Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights

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Congress needs to do what’s right for retail workers.

Retail jobs are here to stay, and workers in this industry are taking a stand for better wages and benefits.  As our nation’s economy relies more and more on part-time, low-wage work, policies are needed to address the widening gap of those working without a safety net for retirement, healthcare, and family leave.  Here are two key pieces of legislation that will protect the health and well-being of millions of part-time workers in retail and other service industries.

Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights

While much attention has been paid to the floundering Affordable Care Act (ACA) website, it is the design of the law’s employer penalties that are the real concern. The ACA includes a fine for failing to cover full-time workers but includes no such penalty for part-timers (defined as working less than 30 hours a week). As a result, some employers are reducing workers’ hours below 30 to save money. The Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights (H.R. 675) would penalize employers for failing to provide health care to part-timers and thereby end the incentive for cutting hours. Some Democrats and Republicans are pushing to change the definition of full-time in the ACA from 30 hours per week to 40. This is the wrong way to go, and would allow companies to get off scot-free for failing to cover those who work between 30 and 39 hours and lead to more hours being cut. The Part-Time Worker Bill of Rights is the best vehicle for fixing a major loophole in the ACA.

Minimum Wage

While CEO pay has risen 725 percent over the last 30 years, workers making the minimum wage have seen their pay remain stagnant. The real value of the current federal minimum wage is lower than it was in the 1960s even as corporate profits are soaring at astronomical rates. States from California to New Jersey have recently raised the minimum wage, but this problem calls for a federal solution. The Retail Justice Alliance supports H.R. 1010 which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and tie it to inflation.  Raising the minimum wage would not only help workers provide for their families, but also boost our economy by giving them more purchasing power. Congress should pass this bill immediately.

Macy’s Plans to Kick Off Black Friday on Thanksgiving

Macy’s recently announced that for the first time, most of its 800 department stores will be open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

Macy’s decision to join a growing list of retailers that are kicking off Black Friday on Thanksgiving is not without controversy. Many retail workers and customers say that opening on Thanksgiving is cutting into family time and keeping retail workers away from their families on this important holiday.

In 2011, a Target worker named Anthony Hardwick made headlines by starting a change.org petition urging Target to save Thanksgiving and not open early for Black Friday. The petition got more than 100,000 signatures – but Target opened anyway.  Last year, Walmart decided to open its doors early at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and more than 30,000 people signed a moveon.org petition in protest.  On the days leading up to and on Black Friday, workers and members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) made history with strikes in more than 100 cities to protest Walmart’s attempt to silence workers who speak out for positive change.

2008 Labor Day -139 sendIt’s obvious that retail workers want a say in their scheduling, and that a lot of Americans agree they should have a choice – particularly when it comes to working on a celebrated American holiday like Thanksgiving.  But, as long as people are willing to stand in line outside in the cold for door busters and deals, retailers will be pushed to open earlier. And there’s only one way to ensure workers have a say in whether or not they work: a union contract.

Thousands of Macy’s workers across the country in New England, New York, Seattle, San Francisco and other areas are members of the UFCW and have a union contract that protects them on the job. Thanks to this contract, union workers at Macy’s have a powerful voice in their own scheduling and can decide whether they’d rather stay home on Thanksgiving or work extra hours. In fact, union stores in the New England, Seattle, and other areas won’t be open on Thanksgiving because their union contract protects this day as a paid holiday for workers. In other locations where workers have a union contract, workers can sign up to work on a volunteer basis. Where there aren’t enough volunteers, Macy’s is hiring seasonal employees.

No matter how people feel about whether it’s right or wrong to open on Thanksgiving Day, a union contract gives workers a chance to decide for themselves – and that’s just what’s happening. Many Macy’s workers have decided to work the shift because they want to put something aside for the holidays, and a Thanksgiving shift means they’ll earn the extra holiday or premium pay they negotiated in their contracts. Others have decided to stay home and celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with their families. This provision in the union contract is just one of the things that makes a union job at Macy’s one of the best retail jobs in the country.