Article 9Recent reports in the news media painstakingly recount the difficulties that many retail employees have when their computer-generated schedules change radically every week, without warning, or when they get sent home during slow times, leading them to work fewer hours (and thus earn less) than they planned. We addressed some of these reports in a tidbit last month (see “Push to Give Steadier Shifts to Part-Timers”). In examples spanning clothing stores and restaurants, workers noted the stress they felt when they could not be sure that they would be able to work some minimum amount each week, enough to cover their bills.

But few of these reports include stories about other retail workers who have guaranteed minimum hours, know their schedules weeks in advance, and may not be sent home, regardless of whether the store is busy or not. This latter group of workers includes members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, and their union contracts with their employers demand that they have access to these rights.

Among the well-known retailers that are also union shops are Macy’s, Bloomingdales, and H&M. At Macy’s for example, employees receive their schedules three weeks in advance. Full-time workers are guaranteed full-time hours, and part-time workers have some minimum level of hours guaranteed as well. These union contracts reflect the new normal for retail employees, where scheduling is at least as important an issue as wages.

Some other retailers have avoided a union presence among their workers but are changing their policies to provide more stable schedules. In particular, Starbucks announced that it would revise or phase out its reliance on computerized scheduling for its baristas. Such moves might represent responses to proposed legislation that would require retail employers to provide guarantees of work hours and consistency in scheduling. For non-unionized retail employees, it may be that such changes cannot come soon enough.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As the popular press assails retailers for treating workers poorly, how is Macy’s seeking to buck this negative publicity trend?
  2. From retailers’ perspective, what are the advantages and disadvantages of providing such benefits to hourly employees?


Source: Rachel L. Swarns, The New York Times, September 7, 2014