Retail Working America Members Win Changes by Standing Together

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Minnesota has made a name for itself as a major hub of the retail industry – look no further than Target and Best Buy, both headquartered in the state. Yet, even as big retail stores reap billions in profits from eager shoppers, retail workers haven’t shared in those gains.

Now, that’s changing. By joining Working America, retail workers are gaining a stronger voice on the job and demanding corporate accountability. In 2014, workers took action to raise the state’s minimum wage, a low $6.15 an hour, and won. The new $9.50 base hourly wage takes the state from having one of the lowest minimum wages in the country to one of the highest when it fully kicks in by 2016, giving more than 325,000 Minnesotans a much-needed raise.

Retail workers from Working America are also joining together to work directly with their co-workers to change their specific workplaces and solve problems on the job.

Last fall, workers from a Twin Cities mall started talking about how they could win changes at their job.  Associates faced low wages, and those working part time lacked health care. Workers faced racial discrimination, no paid sick days and safety challenges. One worker was assaulted by a customer and sustained a concussion while at work. Despite all this, managers had done little to address workers’ concerns, and morale on the job was low.

The workers wanted to do something about it.

The associates met regularly to set priorities and strategize about how to make things better. They circulated a petition calling for paid sick days and distributed surveys to see what co-workers wanted in a better workplace. After building support throughout the store, the members brought their concerns directly to management. They talked with supervisors and directors about the problems they and their co-workers faced and how they were coming together to address these challenges.

By standing united, they saw results.

Management announced shortly after the meeting that workers would be receiving wage increases, paid sick days and that benefits would be added for part-time workers.

Workers at this mall in Minnesota made it happen. They won needed improvements and gained a newfound confidence by talking with one another and uniting for a collective voice. We still have much to do. Workers at the mall continue to face low wages, safety concerns and other problems, but the group showed that by coming together, workers can create a better workplace.

The fight continues to give all retail workers the kinds of initial gains made at one Twin Cities mall. Retail workers are talking with state lawmakers about the need for paid sick days, and they’re leading the call for fair scheduling policies at the state and local level, testifying at a recent hearing.

To get involved in the fight for a better Minnesota for retail workers, contact Working America Minnesota.

Like Retail Working America on Facebook

Image via mo1229 on Flickr

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#ChangeZara Campaign Shows Results for New York Retail Workers

#ChangeZara Campaign Shows Results for New York Retail Workers

The #ChangeZara campaign began for workers at the retail clothing chain’s stores in New York City last May, with employees asking for more pay and for the company to treat them with dignity and respect. The efforts finally paid off when the company texted the workers that they would be receiving a wage increase this January. Zara also is increasing the number of full-time positions in its stores. For many employees, the raise is significant. Valery Jourdan, for instance, will see her salary increase by $2.50 an hour.

The campaign, sponsored by the Retail Action Project and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), was started by Zara employees, who began organizing because they said that too many of them were part-time and couldn’t afford to buy the clothes that they sold. They asked for more hours, better pay, advanced notification of schedules and opportunities for professional growth. Nearly a year later, their organizing efforts paid off.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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248,000 New Jobs Drop Jobless Rate to 5.9% in September

The economy added 248,000 new jobs in September, a big increase over the 180,000 jobs added in August. The unemployment rate fell to 5.9% compared to 6.1% in August, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over the past year, the unemployment rate has dropped by 1.3 percentage points and the number of jobless workers has decreased by 1.9 million.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was 3 million, unchanged from August. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term jobless workers has decreased by 1.2 million.

AFL-CIO Policy Director and Special Counsel Damon Silvers said while the drop in the jobless rate is encouraging, wages continue to stagnate.

For the economy to work for everyone, we need to see low unemployment rates coupled with wages that are rising, like we saw in the late 1990s, when real wages rose and the jobless rate dropped as low as 4%.

While long-term joblessness has dropped some, it remains a major problem. House Republicans have, since the end of last year, refused to allow a vote on the extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits program that was approved by a bipartisan Senate majority. Now, Congress is out of session until after the election, and even then House Republicans are likely to turn their backs on long-term jobless workers again.

Last month’s biggest job gains were in professional and business services (81,000), retail trade (35,000) and health care (23,000).

Other sectors that showed increases include leisure and hospitality (21,000), construction (16,000), information (12,000), financial (12,000) and mining (9,000).

Employment in other major industries, including manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing and government, showed little change in September.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates in September declined for adult men (5.3%), whites (5.1%) and Latinos (6.9%). The rates for adult women (5.7%), teenagers (20%) and blacks (11%) showed little change.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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We Love How This ‘Frozen’ Star Sang About the Minimum Wage. But There Are 3 Problems With It.

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Kristen Bell, the voice of Princess Anna in the blockbuster Disney hit ‘Frozen’ and dozens of other films, put on a different costume this week to talk about something you wouldn’t expect.

Fans of the humor website Funny or Die were surprised to find a new video of Bell portraying Mary Poppins, the famous fictional British governess. In the video, she is telling her two young wards that she has to quit. Why? She makes minimum wage, and it’s not enough to live on.

“Just a three dollar increase can make a living wage,” she sings to the children. She goes onto use all of Mary Poppins’ tricks and tools–little birds, penguins, and so on–to explain how low wages hurt families, businesses, and consumers alike.

Don’t get us wrong: We love this video, and anything that brings this issue to a broader audience helps in our campaign for fair wages.

But unfortunately, Minimum Wage Mary Poppins is not quite accurate when she says an increase to $10.10, as proposed by Democrats and blocked by Republicans in the Senate earlier this year, would constitute a living wage for most Americans:

$10.10 doesn’t keep up with cost of goods. According to the Economic Policy Institute, increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would lift millions out of poverty, but it would still not reach the level it would be if the minimum wage had kept up with inflation since 1968, and would not come close what the minimum wage would be if it had increased with worker productivity.

Real value of the federal minimum wage, 1968–2013 and 2013–2016 under proposed increase to $10.10 by 2016, compared with its value had it grown at the rate of productivity or average worker wages (2013 dollars)

For most Americans, $10.10 doesn’t keep up with the cost of living. While the cost of living varies depending on where you live, $10.10 an hour doesn’t constitute a “living wage” in most areas, particularly if you have one or more dependents.

For example, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, a single adult can survive in Arkansas on $7.86 an hour, which is still higher than the current minimum wage in Arkansas, $7.25. However, add a kid into the mix, and that shoots up to $16.37.

In a more expensive area like the District of Columbia, a single adult needs a living wage of $13.65, which nearly doubles with the addition of one child.

All this assumes a 40 hour work week. Think those numbers from MIT look bleak? Well, they are actually extremely optimistic, because they assume the adults in question are working 2,080 hours a year, or 40 hours a week for 52 weeks.

First off, no one should have to work 8 hours a day every single day of the year with no days off. Not only is that inhumane, it ignores events like sickness, family emergencies, and any other of the infinite problems that might keep someone from their 8-hour work day

Second of all, and perhaps less obvious, is that the majority of low-wage workers aren’t getting scheduled for close to 40 hours a week. Not in their dreams.

We talk to hundreds of people every night, many of them retail and service workers, and a consistent theme we hear is that schedules are erratic, unpredictable, and insufficient.

Sometimes it’s because managers don’t want workers to exceed the number of hours that would require them to provide health care. Sometimes it’s an issue of favoritism or retaliation, where a manager will assign a better or worse schedule based on how they feel about an employee. And if you take a second part-time job, you have no assurance that the two schedules will line up, or that you’d be able to juggle the demands of two jobs as they constantly change.

Lastly, thank you Kristen Bell. Despite these few omissions, your collaboration with Funny or Die is hilarious, clever, and shines a bright spotlight on an issue that’s too often overlooked.

For the first time in forever, we have a Disney song that helps the economic facts go down.

To join Working America’s fight for fair wages, text RAISE to 30644.

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The Biggest Struggle With Working In Retail Isn’t Low Wages

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The retail sector is notorious for low wages and high turnover. But one of the most troubling aspects of working for retail is scheduling.

Many big retail stores use computer systems that use data from the weather outside, the flow of customers in the store, and the rate of sales to determine how many employees are needed for any given time.

This sort of automation is intended to boost the store’s bottom line. But for retail workers, who are often parents who need to hire babysitters, students who have tuition payments due, or people just trying to juggle shifts with two jobs, the “just-in-time” scheduling system wreaks havoc on their lives.

Watch and share this video from our friends at the Retail Action Project, and text JOBS to 30644 to join the fight for dignity at work for all.

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Can Retail Executives Live on Their Own Low Wages?

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Over the past week, five Minnesota lawmakers have taken the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge, calling attention to the struggles of low wage workers by living one week on a minimum wage budget.

But what about the executives of the companies that pay those low wages? Do they know what life is like on $7.25 or $8 an hour?

On Wednesday, February 19, workers who are contracted to clean Target stores joined Organizing for Action (OFA) for an event outside of the Target store in Minneapolis to call for a raise in wages for Minnesota workers. At the event, workers called on Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel to take our Working America Minimum Wage Challenge and try to live for one week on a budget from $7.25 per hour.

Maricela Flores, a mother of five who works for Carlson Building Maintenance cleaning a Target store, told of the stresses that come with poverty wages and asked Mr. Steinhafel to take the challenge.

“I am a single mother of 5 children trying to get by on the $8 an hour I am paid to clean a Target store,” Flores said, “It must be difficult for the CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel, to understand what it is like to be paid such low wages.”

“In 2012 Mr. Steinhafel made over $9,900 an hour–he does not have to live the constant reality of choosing between paying rent, food, clothes, health care,” said Flores, who is a member of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), a Twin Cities worker center. “We are calling on Mr. Steinhafel to take the ‘Working America Minimum Wage Challenge and live on $7.25 an hour for one week to understand what we face.”

Also speaking at the event was Enrique Barcenas, who works for Prestige Maintenance USA cleaning a Target store. He spoke of the need for homegrown companies like Target and powerful leaders like Mr. Steinhafel to take a lead to ensure that no one willing to work full time should have to live in poverty in our state.

“Every evening I work cleaning a Target store, surrounded by food and other necessities that I can’t afford to buy. The cost of living goes up every year, yet our wages remain stagnant,” said Barcenas, also a member of CTUL. “Now is the time for change. It is time for companies like Target to support fair wages for Minnesotan families. It is time for retail janitorial companies to recognize our right to organize.”

The group went into Target headquarters after the rally, but were not allowed to talk with Mr. Steinhafel. They left the guidelines for the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge with the security guards who blocked the entrance and asked for confirmation whether Mr. Steinhafel will accept the challenge to live a week in the shoes of a minimum wage worker. They were not given a response.

On February 25, the Minnesota AFL-CIO and community allies will rally at the Capitol Rotunda in Saint Paul to call on legislators to take action on raising the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.

Photo by CTUL on Facebook

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That Time Stephen Colbert Created A Public Relations Nightmare for Walmart

On Tuesday night, Stephen Colbert helped turn Walmart’s food drive fiasco into a full-blown PR nightmare.

Earlier this week, a Walmart associate shared a photo from a Canton, Ohio store showing empty bins with a sign that read “Please donate food items so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.”

Not only is Walmart not taking responsibility for their low wages and unfair scheduling practices that put many of their employees “in need.” They are placing the burden on their fellow associates to help them out.

“Some critics out there are saying Walmart isn’t doing enough, but they’re wrong because Walmart isn’t doing anything,” Colbert told his audience. “These bins are for employees to donate to other employees. And where can Walmart low-wage employees find cheap food to donate? Walmart.”

“Anyone can afford food there,” he continued, “except people who work at Walmart.”

This is just another way Walmart, despite huge profits and exorbitant executive pay, places its financial burdens on others. Because of Walmart’s low wages, erratic scheduling, and lack of health benefits for more employees, each Walmart Supercenter costs taxpayers approximately $900,000 in Medicaid, SNAP, and other public assistance.

Walmart claims they pay an average hourly wage of $12.78, but independent analyses peg that number closer to $9 an hour. A Walmart executive boasted at a Goldman Sachs conference in September that 475,000 of the company’s U.S. associates make more than $25,000 a year, implying that the vast majority of Walmart’s 1.4 million American employees make less than that.

This business model is a choice, not a necessity. A Demos report showed how Walmart could double hourly wages just by not repurchasing billions of dollars its own stock. An analysis from Fortune magazine’s senior editor Stephen Gandel — hardly a left-winger — demonstrates that Walmart could give its employees a 50 percent raise and still deliver on its promises to shareholders.

Thus far, Walmart is refusing to listen to shareholders, independent business analysts, or its own workers. That’s why we’re standing up on Black Friday – stand with us by finding an event near you.

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If You Aren’t Sure Walmart Needs to Pay Higher Wages, This Photo Will Erase All Doubt

The photo above comes from the Walmart on Atlantic Boulevard in Canton, Ohio.

The bins aren’t to collect cans for a food pantry somewhere else in the city. They are meant to collect food for Walmart associates themselves.

Here’s some context. The average Walmart sale associate makes $8.81 per hour, according to the independent market research group IBISWorld. That translates into $15,576 a year if the associate works a full-time schedule of 34 hours a week. But that’s actually pegging it quite high, as many associates have highly erratic or meager work schedules that don’t allow them anywhere close to full-time status.

For a three-person household (two parents and a child, for instance), the 2013 federal poverty level is $19,530.

When their paychecks don’t cut it, many associates turn to public assistance to make up the difference. Walmart’s low wages and insufficient scheduling are behind the enormous costs to the taxpayer incurred by each store. One Walmart Supercenter costs taxpayers $900,000 in Medicaid, SNAP, housing assistance, and other forms of public assistance.

But beyond the numbers are the associates themselves, juggling unpredictable schedules and light paychecks, who see the food bins as a sign that the company sees their struggle as the rule, not the exception:

An employee at the Canton store wasn’t feeling that Walmart was looking out for her when she went to her locker more than two weeks ago and discovered the food drive containers. To her, the gesture was proof the company acknowledged many of its employees were struggling, but also proof it was not willing to substantively address their plight.

The employee said she didn’t want to use her name for fear of being fired. In a dozen years working at the company, she had never seen a food drive for employees, which she described as “demoralizing” and “kind of depressing”.

An analysis by Fortune shows that Walmart can afford to give its employees a 50 percent raise without hurting its bottom line. But low wages are only one part of the widespread culture of disrespect, retaliation, and indifference Walmart shows its employees.

More than ever before, associates are standing up to this culture, and we’re standing with them. On November 29, 2013, protests are planned at Walmart stores across the country, and all are welcome to stand in solidarity with associates.

Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer. They have set the standard for an entire generation of business practices. Whether or not we shop there, what they do at their company affects all of us.

Visit BlackFridayProtests.org to find an event near you.

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D.C. Living Wage Bill Unable to Get Votes to Override Mayor’s Veto, but Fight for a Higher Minimum Wage Has Just Begun

Although the Washington, D.C., Council did not override Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s veto of the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which would have required the district’s big-box retailers to pay workers a living wage of $12.50 an hour, the conversation about raising the minimum wage in D.C. is gaining momentum.

Metropolitan Washington Council President Jos Williams said:

We made sure the issue of a living wage was front and center across the country. We exposed Walmart’s hypocrisy and just how far they will go to deny workers fair pay. And we backed Council members into a corner; forcing them to have a real conversation about raising wages for all working people. The fight for fair wages for all District workers isn’t over. We thank those who stood with workers and for the Council members who sided with Walmart, there will be consequences.

Walmart, which is slated to open five stores in Washington, D.C., had previously threatened to pull out of the district if they were required to pay their workers a living wage.

“We’re disappointed that Mayor Gray and certain city council members didn’t listen to D.C. residents and pass this commonsense bill,” said Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work—two organizations involved in the coalition to pass the LRAA. “We all do better when we all do better—and Washington, D.C., deserves better than employers who don’t respect the community. We hope this vote sends a message to legislators in cities and towns across the country that residents will continue to speak out and demand fair wages for workers in their city. This fight in D.C. is just the beginning.”

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells gathered support for a new bill yesterday, when the LRAA veto override failed, that would create an across-the-board minimum wage hike indexed to inflation. The Washington Post reports, ”The bill gained nine co-introducers, indicating significant momentum for an across-the-board wage increase.”

Also, Gray floated a minimum wage increase in his veto letter Thursday, and Council member David A. Catania introduced a bill Tuesday proposing an increase.

According to a Hart Research Associates poll, 71% of D.C. residents supported the LRAA.

Walmart workers all over the United States will continue to challenge Walmart  now and throughout the holiday season leading up to Black Friday to address low wages, lack of respect and what they say are poor working conditions.

Forbes announced two days ago the Walton family, which owns Walmart, saw their net worth increase 25% in the past six months to $144.7 billion.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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More Than Just Fried Snickers at the Minnesota State Fair

Yesterday at the Minnesota State Fair, Working America was highlighted at the AFL-CIO Labor Pavilion. Working America members worked the booth and informed fairgoers about the importance of raising the minimum wage in Minnesota and launched our new Fair Scheduling Campaign that focuses on retail workers and service employees.

“Fair and predictable scheduling is important for so many reasons,” said Avita Samuels, a Working America member who is a retail worker at the Mall of America. “It really ties into this whole ‘Raise the Wage’ Campaign, as it really applies to somebody’s ability to make decent living for themselves.”

Working America members collected petition signatures from those who believe that all workers deserve a job with a schedule that guarantees they are able to work enough hours to provide for their families. All signatures will be taken to the Minnesota Department of Labor to commission a study, which could then lead to legislation that supports predictable scheduling, particularly in the retail and service industries.

“If workers don’t have fair scheduling, they are not able to  really plan ahead for the future, they are not able to get a second job if necessary,” Avita continued. “They are unable to do things like care for their kids because they can’t find babysitters as things are constantly changing. And it’s also just really important to know how to budget these days.”

A workplace troubleshooter was also at the Working America booth talking to visitors who expressed concerns with particular aspects on the job and highlighted the new FixMyJob.com web tool.

“This is why FixMyJob.com and the Dear David column are so necessary,” said member Leann Bosques. “People have real concerns out there and don’t know how deal with them. These tools give suggestions and solutions in areas and even some laws that pertain to workers, so it’s all very helpful.”

Ultimately with Working America Day, members sought to pass on a bigger message about using collective action to make changes. “Working America is so important and I think the labor movement is something that everyone should be involved in,” Leann said, “There’s strength in numbers and we have to make sure that the economy is improved but we can only do that if we do it together.”

To join our campaign for fair scheduling in Minnesota, email Chase at [email protected]

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