Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union
Macy’s announcement that it wanted to go ahead with its July 4th fireworks display in the midst of this pandemic should be disturbing to all New Yorkers for several reasons.
Macy’s should not be spending millions on fireworks after laying off its entire workforce. Most of their employees cannot even afford health care coverage at this time. Many Macy’s employees have worked for the company for decades, and now they are on the street with nothing from their employer.
Furthermore, they are putting New Yorkers at risk unnecessarily––in order to use our city as a backdrop for their nationally televised commercial for themselves. Most New Yorkers don’t have balconies overlooking the East River. The last thing we want to do is to encourage people to come together in large groups in order to see fireworks. Social distancing at the fireworks display is a joke. That is why Mayor de Blasio rightfully cancelled other large events for the entire month of June, including the Pride Parade which would have been held just a few days before.
If Macy’s really cares about New Yorkers, they should be spending that money on healthcare coverage for their hardworking New York employees. That would be the real way to show your patriotism.
But that’s not even the worst of it. What is even more outrageous is that Macy’s is insisting on holding contract negotiations in the midst of Gov. Cuomo’s “stay at home” order. Yes, the contract between Macy’s and its workers’ union is expiring soon. The stores are closed, nobody is working, and neither party has any clue what the future will hold. How do you negotiate in good faith when the company is unable to tell you when each store will reopen or how it will reopen, or for what hours and with what staffing needs? And nobody has any clue what customer traffic will look like when New York’s economy does begin to re-open.
Macy’s even suggested having the three dozen members of the union’s negotiating committee travel from all over New York City to Manhattan for face-to-face negotiations at the beginning of May––in defiance of Gov. Cuomo’s “stay at home” order.
As we have done elsewhere, we have proposed postponing negotiations and extending the current contract until both sides will have some sense of what the future will look like and what we will be negotiating for. We suggested extending the current contract for a year, and Macy’s said “no.” We then suggested extending the contract for at least six months, and Macy’s again said “no.”
So why is Macy’s insisting on negotiating now? It simply appears that they are trying to take advantage of this current crisis for their own ends.
It defies common sense to insist these negotiations go on in the coming weeks. Workers cannot adequately prepare for contract negotiations with so many unknowns. Nor is there any serious need to do it now.
We are all adapting to our new reality as New York responds to this crisis. Macy’s needs to adapt to this reality now. Just as it shouldn’t be promising a fireworks show that encourages New Yorkers to gather in crowds to enjoy it, Macy’s shouldn’t pretend that it’s business as usual when it comes to these negotiations. This “pause” is for everybody Macy’s, even you.
Stuart Appelbaum is president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (www.rwdsu.org; Twitter: @sappelbaum).