October 31, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Tired of low wages, paltry hours and unfair favoritism, workers at the lucrative Dylan’s Candy Bar on the Upper East Side are hoping to find a powerful new voice within the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU]. Watch Video
Members of Local 338 and 1102 lent their support to fed up sales associates dressed as “Oompa-Loompas” at a job action held outside the flagship 3rd Avenue shop on Wednesday, calling on owner and billionaire Dylan Lauren to come to the bargaining table and address worker grievances.
“We struggle out here,” Dylan’s employee Ricah Norman told LaborPress. “This business is very successful. Dylan has gone on record saying it herself, and still her employees can’t survive on a day-to-day basis.”
Dylan’s Candy Bar reportedly rakes in about $25 million annually, has been featured in numerous films and television series and has become a primo destination for both tourists and celebrities alike.
However, hard-pressed sales associates who have been forced to take part-time jobs in order to make ends meet, say that the daughter of world famous fashion designer Ralph Lauren, has partially built Dylan’s success through worker exploitation.
“People think that retail [work] is to be used as a stepping stone to something better,” said Dylan’s employee Iris Velasquez. “But with Dylan’s Candy Bar that’s not the case. I was hired full-time and looking forward to saving up for my education. But fluctuating hours caused me to seek out not one, but two part-time jobs.”
Although he has worked for Dylan’s Candy Bar for about a year, co-worker Phil Arnone said that he has never once been able to work the full-time hours or earn the overtime pay he was promised when originally hired.
“My wife and I wanted to get married and I was hoping this would be a great way where I could earn some extra money and save up for that – start supporting my wife and my family and live the American Dream,” Arnone said. “But that’s not what happened.”
Last summer, a core group of Dylan’s Candy Bar workers presented management with a petition outlining their grievances.
“Unfortunately, management’s response to this was sour, not sweet,” employee David Oscos said. “They told us not to act collectively and retaliated against us. That’s why we reached out to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. We know that within a union, there is power. Coming together to form a union, gives us a voice on the job. We are calling on the company to meet our demands and respect our right to unionize free of intimidation and retaliation.”
Dylan’s high turnover rate – one of the ways that retail giants routinely stymie organizing efforts – is presenting the RWDSU with special challenges this time around, as well.
“We think that that system is so rigged, that’s why we’re actually asking Dylan to sit down with her workers and the union to discuss a settlement – to actually allow the workers the free choice to join the union just by signing cards,” RWDSU organizer Phil Andrews said.
Rabbi Michael Feinberg, executive director of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition, said that workers all across the city are starting to rebel against exploitation.
“Maybe the management here isn’t paying attention, but there’s a new mood amongst workers in this city,” Rabbi Feinberg said. “A mood demanding what’s theirs, what’s just, what’s right, what’s fair. From retail workers, to car wash workers, to fast food workers. Workers are standing up and saying, ‘We won’t be exploited anymore. We won’t accept poverty wages, we won’t accept being treated with a lack of respect.’”
Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” reportedly inspired Dylan Lauren to start her candy business back in 2001. In Dahl’s tale, “Oompa-Loompas” are the slavish workforce that power Willy Wonka’s fantastic candy-making enterprise.