Long absent from discussions about employment, workers from Walmart to Bloomingdale’s are taking matters into their own hands.
Jun 20, 2017
Francisco Aguilera has worked at the Express on Bay Street in Emeryville, California for the past year and a half. “I do a little bit of everything,” from running the register to folding and arranging clothes to working in the stockroom in the back of the store, he says. Soft-spoken with an open smile, Aguilera is what many people picture to be the typical retail worker: someone putting in a few hours in the evenings at a shopping complex while attending college during the day. He likes his job well enough, though he notes it can be tiring to work until 9:30 or 10:00 at night and then find time to do his schoolwork.
The customers, too, can be exhausting, Aguilera says. Bay Street is one of the shiniest shopping developments in Emeryville, a town of about two square miles on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. If you visit it today, you might think it was carved out of Oakland and Berkeley solely to create a retail destination, packed with multiple outdoor shopping centers, big-box stores like Target and Ikea, and thousands of low-wage retail workers who commute half an hour or more in search of work.
The nature of a retail job is shaped, for many workers, by three things: the customers, the manager, and the likelihood of moving on to something else. Aguilera notes that his job has been relatively pleasant because he likes his manager, who has been willing to work with his schedule. Managers, he says, “have so much control over basically your whole experience.
Marlena Hudson can testify to that. Over the last two years balancing two jobs at two different Bay Street stores, she’s experienced the way managers can be manipulative, making decisions based on favoritism and their own convenience at the expense of their employees. During this time, she has also seen Emeryville vote on the nation’s highest minimum wage, currently
$15.20 an hour for businesses with 56 or more employees. That wage is nice, she notes, but it still doesn’t afford her enough money to move out of her grandmother’s house. “You have to be working full-time or 40 hours a week, at least,” she says, to pay Bay Area rents, and despite working two jobs, she has a hard time getting enough hours to make ends meet. Even in Emeryville, one of the best places in the country to be a retail worker, making the work into a career is a struggle.
Hudson and Aguilera are part of America’s massive retail workforce. Nationwide, retail jobs account for 10 percent of all employment. That includes jobs at clothing and accessories retailers like the ones at Bay Street, department stores like Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, grocery stores, electronics stores, home and garden stores, and of course, Walmart and other big-box stores. Despite its major role in the economy, retail — which makes up half of all consumer spending — tends to be a low-wage, high-turnover sector. Its workers are disproportionately women and disproportionately people of color. They face a laundry list of problems, from rampant wage theft to race and gender discrimination.
Retail workers get little attention in major discussions about employment in America. In part, this is because the jobs are widely seen as low-skill, temporary ones done by young people like Aguilera, on their way to something more prestigious. Why make the jobs better if they’re just done by kids, or women who are looking for pocket money, or the unskilled?
Continue reading at: https://www.racked.com/2017/6/20/15817988/retail-workers-unions-american-jobs