June 15, 2016
By Steven Wishnia
New York, N.Y.—Almost 5,000 workers at four Macy’s stores in New York City and White Plains could go out on strike late tonight, as a 45-day contract extension expires at midnight on June 15.
Key issues in the negotiations between the company and Local 1-S of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union include pay, the costs of health care, and whether working on holidays should be mandatory or voluntary. Macy’s placed full-page ads seeking strikebreakers in local newspapers on Sunday, June 12.
“It’s been a tough process,” says RWDSU New York City director David Mertz. The union, he says, is trying to persuade management that if they want a vibrant, growing company, “they need to invest in their workers and not treat them as expenses to be cut.”
Instead, according to Mertz, Macy’s has proposed a plan that would reduce commissions for some salespeople, and wants to require working on holidays, when it has traditionally been voluntary. The workers want raises—some start at rates not much above minimum wage—and lower-cost health care. About one-fourth can’t afford the company’s health insurance, RWDSU head Stuart Appelbaum told NY1-TV June 2. The cheaper of the two plans available, says Mertz, has “incredibly high deductibles”—$3,000 for a single person and $6,000 for a family.
A strike would affect four stores: the flagship Macy’s on 34th Street in Manhattan, plus those in the Queens Center mall, Parkchester in the Bronx, and White Plains. It would not affect the five elsewhere in the city, which are nonunion.
Macy’s did not respond to a request for comment. A June 13 statement from the company said, “Macy’s is committed to bargaining in good faith, discussing all of the issues at the bargaining table and working towards reaching an agreement before the June 15th deadline. Any planned actions to rally or for calls to strike by the union are an expected and standard part of the negotiation process.”
“The company is still demanding that you accept low-end medical with very high costs and minimal wage increases that not everyone gets, even when you do your job!” Local 1-S said in a June 13 message to members.
The union is not asking for anything “extraordinary,” says Mertz, just a “level of decency.” Treating the workers better would be good for business, he contends. The Herald Square store is Macy’s “showcase to the world,” and stressed-out workers struggling to afford a place to live in their own city don’t create the best atmosphere for shoppers.
“Macy’s is profitable and can afford to do right by their workers,” he says.