Retail Unions, Workers Face ‘Precarious’ Times

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By Jaclyn Diaz

Retail workers and the unions that represent them should be on alert after the recent announcement of hundreds of Macy’s, Kmart and Sears stores closing, a labor professor told Bloomberg BNA.

The growth of e-commerce, namely, online retailers such as Amazon, has a hand in pushing out traditional department stores and their workers, Francis Ryan, director of the Labor Studies and Employment Relations graduate program at Rutgers University, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 9.

“The growth of e-commerce is definitely part of a longer historical path of retail change,” Ryan said. “The rise of e-commerce is having a powerful effect on how people shop and on the people who work in the stores.”

While the retail unions should be able to maintain the current level of job standards for their workers, it isn’t certain that will last, Ryan said.

“It is a very precarious time” for unions, Ryan said.

Along with the rise of e-commerce, the labor movement is facing an unprecedented challenge with the imminent transition to a Republican White House and GOP-majority in Congress. That, as well as a possible shift on the U.S. Supreme Court, could pave the way for anti-union policies, Ryan said.

Unions, Retail Groups Prepared

Macy’s said it will close 100 stores by the end of 2017, citing poor holiday sales. The company estimates it will cut 6,200 jobs, and another 3,900 workers will be displaced by store closures. Some employees could be reassigned, the company announced Jan. 4.

Sears and Kmart will close 150 stores by the end of the year, Sears Holdings, the company that owns both stores, announced Jan. 4. In 2016, 78 Sears stores shut their doors and more than 200 closed in 2015. The company did not disclose how many workers might lose their jobs.

Two Macy’s locations with workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers will close in 2017, according to the union. An estimated 180 workers at the Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco and 100 at the Everett, Wash., Macy’s lost their jobs.

The UFCW recognizes that retail is changing but the union is preparing for industry changes, Jess Levin, deputy communications director with UFCW, told Bloomberg BNA. The union provides opportunities for members to grow beyond their retail work by giving tuition assistance to members for college and by sponsoring job-training programs.

“But retail can and should continue to provide good jobs for workers even in light of technology or competition with Amazon,” Levin said.

By closing 100 stores by the end of the year, Macy’s plans to refocus on expanding its online business to remain competitive, Macy’s said Jan. 4

As technology and consumer behaviors change, so too will retail, the National Retail Federation, the industry’s largest advocacy organization, said in a Jan. 9 statement to Bloomberg BNA.

“NRF is excited about the future of retail and the innovative ways that retailers will continue to serve their customers. Change is inevitable, and every day, retailers assess and reassess their business models,” representatives for the NRF said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at; Terence Hyland at; Christopher Opfer at

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