April 26, 2017
By Steven Wishnia
New York, NY – Workers at the Bloomingdale’s department store on East 59th Street voted Apr. 24 to go on strike if they don’t get an acceptable contract by May 1.
Members of Local 3 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents about 2,000 workers at the store, authorized the possible walkout by voice vote in two separate meetings held at a nearby church, said union spokesperson Chelsea Connor.
“The workers have made it clear tonight that it is critical that we reach a fair and equitable contract by Monday, May 1,” Local 3 President Cassandra Berrocal said in a statement. “We do not take a vote that would cause workers to go on strike for the first time in 50-plus years lightly, and I urge the company to recognize the non-sales work that our members have been increasingly asked to do. Tonight’s vote sent a clear message on how important fair pay is.”
Two main issues, Connor told LaborPress, are getting salespeople paid for tasks that don’t earn them commissions, and winning them commissions for online sales, which are an increasing share of the store’s revenue.
A large number of Bloomingdale’s salespeople work on the “draw vs. commission” system, in which the company advances them money and they get paid more once they earn enough commissions to recoup that. But “they’re being asked to do a lot of things they don’t earn any money for,” she explains, such as processing online sales, arranging for things ordered online to be picked up, and signing customers up for store credit cards. As those cards give customers discounts, that cuts into commissions as well.
Bloomingdales, Local 3 says, has also been “pushing customers to shop online since 2012,” which it estimates has cost salespeople 20-30% of their annual wages. To compensate for this loss, the union is seeking to create a way for online sales to be counted as part of store sales, so workers could get commissions.
Spokespeople for Bloomingdale’s did not respond to phone and email messages from LaborPress.
Connor says management has contended that calculating commissions for online sales would be too complicated. Possible solutions, she says, include giving workers a commission on items sold online and picked up in the store; paying commissions on items ordered online that a store employee has to find and process for shipping—for example, a blue-and-white striped size 8 dress—and negotiating that a percentage of online sales to customers in the New York metropolitan area be credited as store sales.
If Local 3 wins this, Connor says, that would be the “first time any worker would be remunerated for online sales.”
Other issues still at impasse, the union says, include, general wage increases, the company’s proposal to stop its contributions to the medical and sick-day benefit fund, adding Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday, and the potential firing of workers who are “in deficit”—who haven’t made enough in commissions to pay back their advance “draw.”
Negotiations will continue through the weekend, says Connor.
“Bloomingdale’s will only continue to exist if the company invests in its workforce,” RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said in a statement. “The members of Local 3 of the RWDSU have made it clear tonight that they are tired of losing wages to a company that isn’t invested in them. This is a workforce where many members have spent 20-30 plus years working at this iconic New York store, and the fact that the company won’t recognize the hard work they do every day to adapt to the changing of the retail industry is deplorable.”