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Viewpoint: Retail workers have the right to unionize

It’s time to give retail workers a voice.

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It’s time to face facts. Modern consumer retail is changing by way of an evolving society obsessed with convenience and simplicity. This past year, online retail sales made for 12 percent of all consumer purchases. While this may seem quite low, the revenue generated from these sales is only expected to increase with time. In a world now fully dependent on technology, it makes sense that consumerism is switching over to the internet because of its reliability. However, the move from traditional in-person shopping to an online medium will have an enormous impact on the U.S. economy. It could eventually even cost thousands of jobs for hourly employees across the country.

These workers deserve protection in a field with an uncertain future. Unions could give them a voice they so desperately need, but many retail chains don’t want their employees to have this power. Some even go so far as to threaten them with immediate termination for merely bringing up the idea of forming a union.

There’s a problem here. The staunch anti-unionism of American retail is well known. It’s even been a topic on NBC’s terrific but underrated sitcom “Superstore” that follows the daily life of working for a large retailer perfectly. People are often concerned about the low wages employees working in retail make, but there has yet to be a noticeable, concrete push for unionization among these workers.

With their jobs possibly in jeopardy, now is as good a time as any to make this a priority in discussions on how to improve the lives of the average minimum wage earner.

The recent events at Sam’s Club are an example of how a union could help workers in times of change. The Walmart owned chain recently came public with the decision to close over 60 stores nationwide likely resulting in the loss of over 10,000 jobs. Though it is unknown if a union could have prevented these closures, workers would surely feel much safer with their presence in the aftermath of these numerous layoffs. Walmart has a long history of unfair workplace treatment that puts its working-class workers only at more of a disadvantage, but the chain is certainly not the only force in the destructive force many have set against unions.

Retail employees deserve better than the treatment they currently receive. Though some companies like Costco are known for providing solid benefits and pay, the vast majority of American retailers profit off of the poverty of their employees. Hours can be cut without so much as even a warning. Wages are often stagnant and not nearly close to a necessary salary to provide for one’s self or family. These conditions are decidedly unfair, but the many working class people of retail who may or may not be living below the poverty line don’t have much of a choice but to stay and hope for better days. These big-box retailers know this and consciously choose to do what best suits their monetary interests rather than doing what helps the people who serve them with labor and time.

A union would provide a voice for the voiceless workers of a dwindling retail industry in the fight against money hungry CEOs and companies. Surely, unionization would not perfect the lives of these employees, but it would give them a greater chance of protecting themselves in these difficult times. If a national conversation about raising the minimum wage can be started, it is absolutely time that the same happens for the right of employees to form a union.

 

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Lauren Grimaldi is a senior political science student at Roosevelt University in Chicago. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the Roosevelt Torch, the school's student run newspaper. When she graduates in May, she hopes to find work in policy reform, political campaigns, or writing. Follow her on Twitter @laurengrimaldi_ to learn more about her obsession with politics and baseball.

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