“Once upon a time, you had people who would make a career in the retail industry,” Bill Fletcher, the chair of new worker rights group told reporters yesterday. “Those days are over.”
Because retailers employ minorities and women in overwhelming numbers, many who are living below the poverty line, the National Retail Justice Alliance (NRJA) wants to change that by forcing people to start thinking about conditions for those workers.
The group, just announced yesterday, wants to stop employers from cutting back wages, limiting worker hours, forcing workers to maintain part time status to avoid having to give them benefits and from making other moves to maximize their bottom line by limiting labor costs.
“It’s easier to control profit by just controlling labor and no one looks at other parts of production and basically labor becomes a flexible matter that can be cut,” NRJA steering committee member Dr. Julianne Malveaux said pointing out that profit is the incentive for an employer to have 20 workers working for 20 hours a week as opposed to 10 people working 40 hours.
During the call, workers from Wal-mart, Macy and Martin’s Food spoke on their struggles to provide for their families while working in a constrictive retail environment.
The group’s launch is timely. Just this week, a California judge granted relief to Wal-Mart warehouse workers who complained of being underpaid and overworked.
In fact, the organization was formed on the heels of the first-ever nationwide Wal-Mart worker strikes last year.
“It’s clear that leaders in the retail industry need to step up to the plate and ensure that all retail jobs have decent wages and benefits that can support a family, and Wal-Mart—the world’s largest retailer—is a good place to start,” Fletcher said. “Unfortunately, the retail giant’s drive to put profits ahead of its workers has influenced other retailers to do the same, and that’s why this alliance was formed.”
The organization promises to work with opinion leaders, community groups and retailers to build a support for works in the retail industry. It says it wants to promote sustainable jobs, living wages, affordable health care and fair public policies.
“The Job of the National Retail Justice Alliance is to try to shift public opinion,” NRJA’s chair Bill Fletcher said during a conference call with the media, “There is in fact very little discussion at the national level and in mainstream media about what is happening with retail workers.”
NRJA hopes to change that new reality.