Led by a 23-year old sales associate named Sharlene Santos, workers at Zara in New York have joined a growing number of retail workers seeking a living wage and predictable work hours.
Santos has posted a petition at coworker.org urging Dilap Patel, the managing director of Zara’s operations in the US to provide Zara employees with work hours sufficient enough to allow them to earn a living wage, equal opportunities for raises and promotions, and a respectful work environment.
More than 1,400 Zara employees and their supporters have signed the petition. Their efforts are being supported by the Retail Action Project, a project of New York’s Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
Zara is one of the world’s largest fast fashion companies with 1,770 stores in 86 countries. Zara specializes in producing clothes that closely resemble the latest in high-end fashion wear, getting the newest designs to market quickly, and selling them at affordable prices.
It is owned by Inditex, one of the world’s largest retail holding companies. The owner of Index is Amancio Ortega of Spain, who Forbes says is the fourth richest billionaire in the world.
In explaining why she and her fellow Zara associates are petitioning Patel, Santos said that when she began working at Zara, she worked enough hours to keep up with cost of her ongoing college education and help her parents pay some bills and expenses.
But after the last Christmas season, she and other Zara employees were told that they would no longer be able to work more than 25 hours a week.
“If I worked the maximum amount of hours every week at my store, I would only make $13,650 a year,” writes Santos.
Santos said that after Zara management limited the number of hours that employees could work, her weekly work hours dropped from an average of 35 to 16.
“With these kinds of poverty schedules, we are forced to choose between bills, rent, and food. Some of my coworkers were skipping meals to save money,” she continues. “I felt so stretched that I considered quitting school. And while Zara says we can’t get more hours, they continue hiring more part-time associates.”
Santos went on to say that when she and a committee of other Zara workers confronted their manager about the lack of work, the manager blamed their reduced hours on the new Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which requires employers to provide health care insurance to workers who average 30 or more hours of work each week.
But a new report by a team of researchers from the City University of New York and RWDSU suggests that the Obamacare excuse is a cover up for the real reason that workers are seeing their hours reduced.
The report entitled Short Shifted finds that retailers such as Zara are relying more on just-in-time scheduling to lower labor costs.
Just-in-time scheduling relies on sophisticated software to track and analyze customer traffic. Through the use of this technology, retailers are able to staff their stores with as few employees as possible when customer traffic is light.
To make just-in-time scheduling work, employers use on-call scheduling. When on-call scheduling is used, workers are given certain days and hours when they must be available for work. Two hours before their shift begins, they’re required to call their manager, who tells them whether they’re needed.
Short Shifted says that just-in-time scheduling lowers labor costs and that for this reason, its use has become prevalent in the retail business.
Fewer and uncertain work hours aren’t the Zara workers only grievances, writes Santos.
“We sales associates have noticed that there is a real lack of advancement opportunities for people of color, and we rarely get the promotions that would give us full-time hours,” writes Santos.
A recent article in the New York Times says that joining a union could help the Zara workers resolve the problems they face on the job.
The Times reports that at Macy’s department stores in New York City sales associates like Debra Ryan belong to RWDSU.
Ryan, who has been a Macy’s employee for 27 years, works full-time and makes about $20 an hour or $40,000 a year.
She also knows three weeks in advance what her schedule will be and is guaranteed that she’ll be paid for all the hours on her schedule.
“I’m able to pay my rent, thank God, and go on vacation, at least once a year,” said Ms. Ryan to the Times. “There’s a sense of security.”