Retail workers in unions reap higher wages even as U.S. organizers suffer setbacks

Wally Waugh, 57, a front-end manager at a Stop & Shop supermarket in Oyster Bay, New York, makes over $1,150 a week. He is a union member. Adam Ryan, 33, a sales clerk at a Christiansburg, Virginia, Target, makes $380 to $460 a week. He is not.

A sustained four-year labor squeeze in the retail industry - combined with independent movements to push minimum wages in U.S. states to $15 an hour - is providing unions more power to bargain longer, and to give workers more regular hours and better pay, said Kenneth Dau-Schmidt, professor of labor and employment law at Indiana University Bloomington. Workers often fear that retailers will move to close stores and warehouses or fire people who try to organize. Amazon's agents allegedly warned that the company could shut the Bessemer, Alabama, facility if a union took root, according to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Amazon denied threatening a warehouse closure or layoffs.

Reuters found that one factor behind the widening wage gap is that unionized retail workers tend to work more hours per week, and more predictable hours, than nonunionized workers, as illustrated by Ryan and Waugh. Waugh's full-time schedule is largely stable at 40 hours per week, set by his contract with Stop & Shop, which is owned by Netherlands-based Ahold DelhaizeĀ (AD.AS). He earns more when he works overtime, on Sundays or on holidays, according to the RWDSU, which represents him. Target's Ryan, meanwhile, works a variable schedule from 25 to 30 hours a week, depending on the store's anticipated traffic. Ryan said that even if Target raises his hourly base pay, he will not necessarily earn more per week. "Fifteen dollars an hour doesn't mean anything if that raise in wages is offset by a reduction in hours," he said. Twenty-seven percent of U.S. retail and wholesale workers worked 34 hours a week or fewer in 2019, according to the BLS.

Read the story at Reuters