The new reality of reopening retail stores

STUART APPELBAUM President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Amsterdam News As the Empire State takes its first tentative steps toward reopening the economy, nothing is more important than ensuring we do it the right way. Part of this process will be the reopening of retail stores, most of which have been shuttered since March. And the single most important condition of reopening retail is ensuring the safety of employees and customers. Our union knows all too well that this is a matter of life or death. Across the country, the RWDSU has lost dozens of members to the coronavirus scourge, and countless RWDSU families know the anguish of losing loved ones to the COVID-19 disease. Tens of thousands of RWDSU members will be putting their lives on the line when the economy and retail stores further reopen, along with countless other working Americans. With thousands of RWDSU members employed at retail chains including Macy’s, Zara, Bloomingdales, and H&M, we couldn’t be more concerned. We only have one chance to get this right; getting it wrong—with potentially fatal consequences to our families and communities—cannot be an option. It all starts with wearing masks, which is probably the most important thing we can do to protect people along with social distancing. All employees, management, and customers should be provided masks as they enter the store and they must be required to use them when they are in the store. Consistent mask usage helps prevent transmission of the virus, and it is a crucial component of any responsible reopening plan. Employers need to commit to enforcing social distancing between employees, and employees and customers. Plexiglass partitions need to be constructed at all registers, and temperature testing needs to be provided to all employees at the employee entrance when they begin their shifts to prevent sick workers from entering the facility. Employees need to be given more breaks so they can wash their hands, and they need to be provided with sanitizer and gloves. Employers also must make an unprecedented commitment to cleaning and disinfecting their stores, cleaning all break rooms and restrooms on a regular basis throughout the day. All employee areas need to be properly supplied with paper towels and hand sanitizer. The same type of protocol needs to be used for any equipment employees use, including registers. And, all interactions between customers and employees need to be adjusted to ensure safety. Gone are the days when employees would pass a customer a phone to talk to credit card employees. Stores need to be deep cleaned and disinfected at the end of the day, and air circulation or air conditioning systems need to have proper filters sufficient to clean the air from contaminates. Filters must be cleaned every day. We all want to see New York’s economy moving again, and we want RWDSU members to be able to return to their jobs safely. This means a real commitment from employers to doing this the right way. We’ve made some progress in New York in the fight against COVID-19; it’s proof that a scientific, health-driven approach can work during these uncertain times. If we are going to open our stores, we need to continue to embrace this approach, and keep workers and customers safe, protected, and secure.

'I'm working to survive, not to live.' Essential workers face pay gaps during the pandemic

“Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents over 100,000 workers, echoed Brudney's points regarding the difficulty workers face when it comes to organizing. ‘I think that employers have opposed coming together to have a stronger voice,’ Appelbaum told USA TODAY. ‘There’s been constant union-busting behavior among too many employers.’ Appelbaum says he's hopeful that this type of behavior will change as more people start understanding the importance of essential workers. ‘During the pandemic, people have noticed the value of the jobs essential workers do,’ Appelbaum said. ‘They are jobs that are more important than those that are more compensated.’” Read more at USA Today

Amazon's Big Breakdown

“In February, the company drew backlash by firing Justin Rashad Long, an employee who had called attention to working conditions at the facility, helping to renew a drive by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to organize workers there. ‘Normally, we’re reaching out to workers,’ Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the union, said about Amazon. ‘Now, people are reaching out to us.’ No Amazon warehouse workers in the United States are currently unionized, and the company has been aggressive in pushing back against workers’ efforts to do so. At Whole Foods, the company reportedly maintained a ‘heat map’ of stores’ ‘risk’ of unionizing, taking into account factors like local union membership, diversity (greater diversity is less ‘risk’) and sales. Appelbaum sees the pandemic as a possible turning point, not just for labor but for the public’s attitude about Amazon. ‘They feast on public subsidies, they avoid paying taxes and they mistreat employees,’ he said. The pandemic, he added, ‘magnified the health and safety problems that were there already.’ The workers’ demands during the pandemic are, by and large, unchanged: more safety; more attentiveness to worker health, both physical and mental; more pay, especially considering the risks they take on.” read it at the NY Times Magazine

RWDSU Members Give Back in New Jersey

On May 20, RWDSU Local 108, along with Local 262, hosted a grocery giveaway in New Jersey for union members and others in need. The locals were proud to partner with Mecenas - a Latino-aid charitable organization - to help organize a food drive to help community members who have been affected by the pandemic crisis. The event was sponsored in part by RWDSU-represented supermarkets. “During this crisis, we think it’s important to work with RWDSU-employers in the community to give back, and we were excited about the strong response,” said Local 108 President Charles N. Hall, Jr.

Contract Negotiations for 4,300 Macy’s Workers Cause Debate

From Union workers in four Macy’s stores will be negotiating a new contract, despite many unknowns related to the pandemic shutdown. Union workers at four New York area Macy’s stores will soon be negotiating a new contract despite the many unknowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic. At issue is the contract for 4,300 Macy’s employees in four locations — Herald Square, Queens Center Mall, Parkchester in the Bronx and White Plains in Westchester County — which will expire next month, according to the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union’s president, Stuart Appelbaum. Their contract first expired May 1, but it had an automatic 45-day extension clause. Macy’s has since agreed to a two-week extension, which means the expiration date is June 30. Initially union officials proposed a one-year contract extension and then a six-month one, due to the pandemic. Macy’s declined such lengthy extensions because of the number of contracts the retailer needs to negotiate next year, according to Appelbaum. A Macy’s spokeswoman did not address that specifically Wednesday. “We are absolutely amazed that Macy’s is insisting on negotiating now,” he said. “All of the stores in New York are still closed. They don’t know when they are going to reopen. None of their employees are working. We don’t know what the stores are going to look like or how they’re going to operate when they reopen.” The three main areas of concern are the safety of employees and union members, COVID-19/pandemic response and employee recall, the union leader said. Appelbaum said RWDSU members are worried about going back to work, based on what he alleged are “inadequate” procedures that have been put in place at other Macy’s stores that have reopened. Requiring employees to wear masks, but not requiring customers to wear them is one example, Appelbaum said. Asked for comment, a Macy’s spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday, “We believe that Macy’s Inc. offers a great work environment with fair pay and good benefits. We continue to request dates for bargaining with the RWDSU Local 1-S in good faith. We believe the union should come to the table on behalf of its members and remain committed to pursuing an agreement that is fair to all parties. There are always unknowns in collective bargaining negotiations. The union and Macy’s both have the obligation to forecast, as best as possible, how to resolve those unknowns and build in contingencies for future events. Macy’s is simply seeking to comply with its duty to bargain prior to the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement.” The statement continued, “Additionally, Macy’s top priority is the safety and security of its colleagues and customers. We are following the CDC’s recommended everyday preventative measures, as well as all local and state orders, in accordance with New York State On Pause, and have continued to offer bargaining via a web-based platform of the union’s choosing, or conference call.” Appelbaum claimed that Macy’s had proposed that the union’s 36-person negotiating committee attend an in-person meeting in Manhattan. The Macy’s spokeswoman did not address that question directly via e-mail. Appelbaum questioned the safety aspect of meeting in person, since attendees would need to use public transportation to get there and that a lot of them are “in vulnerable categories” health-wise. From a contract standpoint, RWDSU officials and members are concerned that if older, diabetic and other vulnerable workers do not immediately return to work, when asked to, that they could lose their jobs. Appelbaum said when Macy’s needed a few workers to come back to retrieve some merchandise from the Herald Square store (due allegedly to limited merchandise in the distribution center), those workers were selected by seniority on a volunteer basis. “What we’re concerned about is that that continues as they recall people,” he said. The union provided an update to Local 1-S members Tuesday highlighting some of the challenges it perceives would make negotiations difficult now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Negotiations are expected to start before the end of the month but they will not be conducted in person, the union said. Macy’s plans to host its annual Fourth of July fireworks is another point of consternation for the RWDSU leader, even though the fireworks were strongly defended by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Wouldn’t it be nice if they spent the $6 million [the estimated expense for the fireworks] on their own workforce? That would be a much better way to show their support to New York City,” he claimed. The Macy’s spokeswoman declined to comment regarding the Fourth of July fireworks.

Amazon Denies Responsibility As Worker Deaths Mount

Amazon, the world's largest retailer, is powerful and with great power comes great responsibility. Responsible power is accompanied by transparency and especially when you have staff deaths.  The CEO  of Amazon Jeff Bezos will be a trillioniare by 2026. That's the approximate worth of Amazon as a corporation in 2020. Workers' health and safety have taken a backdoor to profit margins. The greatest example of this is Amazon already cutting off recently granted $2 raises to it's employees. read more here

Worker Assembly Event on May 21

The event will be held on Facebook here:

The Fight for Workplace Safety

he U.S. Department of Labor is giving employers workplace safety suggestions, rather than clear regulations and rules for their enforcement. Some states have tried to fill the vacuum. Meanwhile, workers themselves, supported by unions and advocacy organizations like the National COSH (Council for Occupational Safety and Health), are demanding safer workplaces in this new pandemic environment. Here are some of their stories. Farmworkers in Oregon “I tried to get my employer to follow social distancing, clean the bathrooms, and sanitize. . . . I was also worried because the employer did not have a mask for sick people. But when I spoke up, they just ignored me and then they got mad at me for making problems. Now I am worried that I might be one of the first ones laid off. I need this job for my family.” (A farmworker’s statement to Oregon OSHA in support of new COVID-19 regulations, April 3, 2020.) read more at

Union president blasts President Trump's meatpacking plant move as 'outrageous'

When President Trump signed an executive order last week to keep meat processing facilities open amid the coronavirus pandemic, many people rejoiced since it meant there would be no disruption to the food supply chain. But Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union — which represents workers in food processing, retail, and light manufacturing industries — lambasted the move.  “That decision was outrageous and was the wrong thing to do,” Appelbaum told Yahoo Finance. “What President Trump’s action does is to require plants to stay open, even if there are serious reasons for them to be closed by state or other authorities when a plant is closed for the purposes of deep cleaning and protecting the safety and lives of working people. And Trump is saying he’s not going to allow that to happen. It’s the wrong decision because the best way to protect the food chain is to protect the safety of the workers.” read more here

Working Life Podcast: Trump Wants To Kill Beef & Poultry Workers

Listen Here It is quite something to hear the elites in Washington—especially Republican members of Congress and the menace in the White House—blather on about wanting to wait to see how well the previous, inadequate fiscal stimulus works before deciding whether to do anything else. That’s while tens of millions of people are in the streets, huge lines of hungry people form every day across the nation and states and cities are on the brink of financial ruin. States and cities not only employ collectively millions of people but, my god, their services—from education to just picking up the garbage—are damn essential. And you don’t need a computer to get that with the economy shut down and people sheltering at home, revenue to the states through incomes taxes and other taxes has nosedived. It’s just around the corner, folks: when there are gaps in local budgets, especially at the state level, they are coming after us with cuts pretty quickly to our services, our pensions and our communities. I welcome back Meg Wiehe, deputy director of the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, to wrap our minds around this: Congress should make up any shortfalls states and cities face—and we should use this crisis to also fix the decades-long, deeply crazy, screwed up ideology that skimped on strong government in favor of low taxes for the rich and corporations. Then, I circle back to what’s happening with poultry, hog and meat processing workers in a conversation with, Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Wholesale and Department Stores Union, as we focus mainly about the crazed notion of forcing plants to open up even if COVID-19 is raging through the workplace.