Bloomingdale’s, an upscale nationwide department store, and its New York City employees are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement.
The negotiations are taking place at a time when customer shopping habits are shifting. More of Bloomingdale’s customers are making their purchases online.
But this trend hasn’t made the employees in the store superfluous. They still play an important role in the success of Bloomingdale’s.
“It’s unionized workers at the Bloomingdale’s flagship store who deliver the top-notch service and create the shopping experience so many customers have come to expect and love,” said said Cassandra Berrocal, president of Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) Local 3, the New City Bloomingdale’s workers’ union. “These workers deserve a fair new contract that values their enormous contributions to the financial health and growth of Bloomingdale’s.”
The union wants Bloomingdale’s to recognize the important role that its workers are playing by paying them commissions on online sales.
Customers will often come into stores to gather information about purchases and then finalize their purchases at home online, in some cases, to take advantage on online discounts.
“(Union sales clerks) will help them for hours, and then they go home and buy (online),” said Chelsea Connor, director of communications and media for RWDSU to CBS MoneyWatch. “(Clerks) are spending a lot of time on the phone and on the floor, and not making what we used to make.”
Some sales clerks have seen their commission income drop by as much as 20 percent because of increased online purchases.
In many cases, those online purchases are the result of hard work that sales clerks put in answering customer questions and helping them gather information about their purchases.
“People will come in and take an hour or more of our time looking at furniture, and then they’ll say ‘Can I buy this online?'” said a Bloomingdale’s furniture department employee who preferred not to give her name to Racked, an online media site that covers style and fashion.
It’s not just the sales clerks who make Bloomingdale’s continue to be profitable while other retail stores are struggling.
Local 3 members include shelf stockers and clerical workers as well as retail clerks.
These workers also want their contributions to Bloomingdale’s success recognized.
But Bloomingdale’s came to the bargaining table demanding a slew of concessions.
The company wants to eliminate workers’ pensions, make them pay more for health care coverage, take away scheduling protections, eliminate seniority rights, and take away compensatory days for working on holidays.
The union is resisting these takeaways and fighting for a fair pay increase for all workers.
Negotiations at Bloomingdale’s are coming a time when the retail sales industry is facing uncertain times.
The rise of online sales and other changes to customers shopping habits are affecting sales.
Because of the changes facing the retail sales industry, Macy’s, the owner of Bloomingdale’s, last year announced that it would be closing 68 Macy’s stores and eliminating 10,000 jobs.
Macy’s has been joined by other retailers. Sears, K-Mart, JC Penney, Abercrombie & Fitch, Payless Shoes, Radio Shack, and Staples among others have all announced significant store closings and layoffs.
But Bloomingdale’s has defied this trend.
Instead of closing stores, Bloomingdale has been opening new stores. The number of Bloomingdale’s stores, including outlet stores, increased from 50 in 2014 to 55 in 2016, and the company plans to open more new stores.
Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU, said that instead of seeking concessions, Bloomingdale’s should be rewarding its workers for the company’s success.
“Bloomingdale’s should recognize that these incredible workers make the flagship store a highly profitable global showroom for customers from many countries,” said Appelbaum. “These dedicated employees generate millions in sales for Bloomingdale’s, including from the company’s website. They deserve a fair contract that offers commissions for online sales and returned items, along with good wages, benefits, and scheduling protections.”
Local 3’s current collective bargaining agreement with Bloomingdale’s expires on May 1.
In a message to members, the union ne said that progress had been made during the negotiations but “many very difficult issues remain to be resolved.”
Earlier in the month, the union told members to be prepared to start picketing the store if an agreement could not be reached by May 1.