UPDATE: Macy’s and the RWDSU union averted a strike Thursday after reaching a tentative agreement on a five-year contract. The deal, pending ratification by union members, followed all-night negotiations that extended past Wednesday’s midnight deadline. Terms were not disclosed but a Macy’s spokesperson told Reuters that the deal “addresses the economic and business realities of the retailing industry.”
NEW YORK CITY — More than 4,000 unionized workers at Macy’s stores in the New York City area may strike for the first time in nearly three decades if a new deal is not reached before midnight Wednesday.
The Local 1-S of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced the deadline on Monday in what could be the first strike since 1972. The impasse would affect the company’s flagship store in Manhattan and three stores in the Bronx, Queens and Westchester.
With a deadline looming, the RWDSU is seemingly facing a conflict similar to their Mott’s campaign last year. While Macy’s is not seeking wage cuts as Mott’s did, they are seeking other concessions from workers in spite of the company’s healthy finances. And in a city with a growing number of low-wage retail jobs, the outcome will be closely watched by other retailers and workers in the industry.
The two sides are at odds over wages, benefits and hours. Union officials say the company’s proposal includes reducing paid days-off; higher employee healthcare contributions; eliminating pensions for new hires; and a new scheduling system based on a first-come, first served basis that would reduce full-time hours.
Wages are also an issue, as starting pay at local stores is $7.50 an hour. The union is reportedly seeking more than the Macy’s proposal of a 35-cent hourly increase and additional five-cent raises for high performing workers, according to the Wall Street Journal. A company official said on Tuesday the numbers are different from the latest offer, and added the union is seeking more than the previous proposal.
Macy’s spokesperson Elina Kazan said in a statement that the company has been meeting daily with the union. “A vote by the union to authorize a strike is an expected part of the process during contract negotiations,” she added.
However, in recent days the two sides have begun to draw lines in the sand. On Sunday, Macy’s took out an advertisement in the business section of The New York Times soliciting temporary employment for its local stores “in anticipation of a possible labor dispute.”
That followed up on union activities last Wednesday, when members and some city officials held a rally in front of the Macy’s store in Manhattan calling on the company to offer a fair contract.
“Macy’s has the power to turn the page and offer a different lesson. It is in a financial position to boost job standards for its New York City workers in the next contract and substantially raise the bar for many other retail companies,” RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum told the crowd.
In light of Macy’s recent profits, the union views the company demands as unreasonable.
Macy’s exceeded expectations recently after the company posted $131 billion net income in the first quarter of this year, almost six times higher than the $23 million reported during the same time last year. Sales increased 5.7 percent to $5.88 billion, and the company expects same-store sales to grow at least 4 percent for fiscal year 2011. Last year, Macy’s posted sales of $25 billion.
Retail, in addition to food services and accommodation, accounted for more than half of the city’s job gains last year, according to a recent report by the Drum Major Institute. Retail workers earn the second-lowest wages in the city, 52 percent lower than average earnings, the report said.
Last May, RWDSU workers went on strike in Williamson, N.Y., after Mott’s parent company sought concessions including wage cuts. The four-month strike ended in September with a settlement that included a wage freeze, a continued pension plan for current workers, and no pension for new hires.
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