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Bloomingdale’s Workers Ratify Contract

May 3, 2017 
By Steven Wishnia

New York, NY - After negotiations carried on more than 12 hours past their strike deadline May 1, workers at Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship store ratified a contract they say will “begin to remedy” the income they’ve lost to online sales.

Members of Local 3 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents about 2,000 workers at the store, voted 88% in favor of the four-year deal. 

Under the agreement, the union said, workers paid wages will get annual raises of 60 to 65 cents an hour. The company will also switch several departments, including men’s basics and men’s furnishings, to hourly wages from the “draw v. commission” system—in which salespeople work entirely on commission, and are advanced money they have to pay back before they can get paid any more. For those still working on draw v. commission, it agreed to wipe out $2,500 of their deficit, the money they owe on advances they haven’t recouped. If “any viable sale opportunity is present,” salespeople can no longer be required to leave their department or handle non-sales duties such as order fulfillments. 

“This contract will finally recognize the 20 percent in wages we have lost over the past five years due to online sales,” Betty Lloyd, a swimwear and coats sales associate who served on the union’s negotiations committee, said in a statement released by Local 3. Bloomingdale’s began pushing customers to shop online in 2012, and that has cut into salespeople’s incomes, part from lost in-store sales and part because they have had to spend time on non-sales tasks. 

The $2,500 deficit reduction is important because “customers don’t know that we work on a draw v. commission system that puts so many members of the sales force in debt when we can’t meet our draw,” said domestics sales associate Brenda Moses. “When we spend time with a customer only to hear that they want to go online at home to complete their purchase, we aren’t able to meet our commission goals, and we go into deficit to the company.”

The rule against requiring salespeople to leave their department is particularly important, says RWDSU spokesperson Chelsea Connor, because that can take them off the floor for significant amounts of time.

“I am proud of the stand our membership-driven negotiations committee took to point the spotlight on a growing epidemic in retail—online sales, which negatively impact our membership, which is largely a commission-based sales force,” Local 3 President Cassandra A. Berrocal said in a statement. “It is long overdue that the company recognizes the hard work our members do every day to ensure that customers return to the Bloomingdale’s brand—especially in an age where they can no longer compete on price but must compete on brand loyalty.”

The contract will also increase the company’s contribution to the workers’ medical plan from 54% to 60% of costs, and has “no givebacks,” Local 3 said.

“Today’s recognition of the work Local 3 members do to support sales from the company’s online platform is a huge victory not only for these 2,000 workers, but for commission-paid workers across the country, who will now have a model with which to fight for fair pay for non-sales work,” said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum. “In addition to the recognition of associated online sales, this contract also sets the standard for contract fights during the Trump era.”

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