New York May Have the Model for Retail Workers to Be Able to Earn a Decent Living


By now, the hardships endured by retail workers at clothing stores across [the country] are achingly familiar: the frantic scramble to get assigned enough hours to earn a living on painfully low wages; the ever-changing, on-call schedules that upend child care arrangements, college schedules and desperate efforts to find second jobs.

Workers and government officials around the country are increasingly pushing for change. But for an example of more humane workplaces, there is no need to jet to Sweden or Denmark or Mars. We need to look no farther than Midtown Manhattan, no farther than Herald Square.

For more than two decades, Debra Ryan, a sales associate in the Macy’s bedding department, has guided shoppers in the hunt for bedroom décor, helping them choose between medium-weight and lightweight comforters, goose-down and synthetic pillows, and sheets and blankets in a kaleidoscope of colors.

But here is what’s truly remarkable, given the current environment in retail: Ryan knows her schedule three weeks in advance. She works full time and her hours are guaranteed. She has never been sent home without pay because the weather was bad or too few customers showed up for a Labor Day sale on 300-thread-count sheets.

This is no fantasy. This is real life, in the heart of New York.

“I’m able to pay my rent, thank God, and go on vacation, at least once a year,” Ryan said. “There’s a sense of security.”

So what makes this Macy’s store so different? Its employees are represented by a union, which has insisted on stability in scheduling for its members. (Union workers enjoy similar scheduling arrangements at the Bloomingdale’s, H&M and Modell’s Sporting Goods stores in Manhattan.)

Ryan hopes the movement will spread. She knows from personal experience that satisfying, sustainable careers can be built in retail. After 27 years in the business, she earns about $40,000 a year — nearly $20 an hour — and never has to worry from week to week about her pay.

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