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June 06, 2005

Retail Union Embarks on New Strategy to Empower NY's Lowest Paid Retail Workers

Today's NY Times features an article on a new strategy being undertaken by the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Union (RWDSU/UFCW) and a community organization Make the Road by Walking to empower NYC's lowest paid retail workers:

Like many shopping strips in immigrant neighborhoods, Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick is overflowing with 99-cent stores, cuchifrito stands, sneaker shops - and egregious wage and hour violations.

At the Super Star 99 discount store at 353 Knickerbocker, employees say they work 63 hours a week for $260, which works out to $4.13 an hour, far below the state minimum wage of $6 an hour and the federal minimum of $5.15.

At the Nuevo Mexico restaurant at 276 Knickerbocker, Patricia Reyes, a 29-year-old waitress and cook, said she received just $165 a week, including tips, for 72 hours of work, which comes to $2.29 an hour.

And at Footco, a bustling sneaker shop at 431 Knickerbocker, workers said they earned $4.75 an hour working more than 50 hours a week.
Concerned about the high rate of wage violations, Make the Road by Walking and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union have adopted an unusual strategy. They are collecting information about violations from scores of workers on Knickerbocker Avenue. The two groups plan to confront storeowners with this evidence and give them a choice: either face a lawsuit or government action seeking maximum back pay, or agree to unionization and face a less aggressive push for back pay.

The retail union and Make the Road by Walking say that a half century ago, half of Knickerbocker Avenue's stores were unionized, but that just two were now. The groups assert that unionization would be preferable to occasional back-pay settlements because it would mean long-term improvements in wages and benefits.

"The State Department of Labor is completely overwhelmed and doesn't seem to have enough commitment or resources to do the job properly," said Andrew Friedman, a co-director of Make the Road by Walking. "My sense is many folks are very scared to stand up and complain because they worry about losing their jobs and because they have a perception that the State Labor Department isn't interested in protecting the rights of immigrants."

June 6, 2005 in Unionization/Deunionization, Working Today | Permalink


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i was inquiring as to weather or not you could send me information on joining as a retail-shop assistant

Posted by: lisa m miller | Feb 16, 2007 11:13:16 PM

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