Is it Time for a Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights?

Retail workers deal with a lot of bills, but one they lack is a bill of rights. Should there be a Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights establishing specific standards and protections for the retail sector as a whole? For example:

1. All retail workers are to earn a minimum of $12/hour (that number could, of course, be higher).

2. Employers are to provide schedules one month in advance. If workers are sent home mid-shift, they are to be paid for the hours scheduled anyway.

3. Full-time and part-time workers are to be provided paid sick days, for the protection of all workers and customers.

4. Workers seeking full-time work are to be offered more hours, before any new part-time hires are made.

5. All retail workers are free to unite with their co-workers, organize, engage in political discussion and activism, and self-advocate. No employer representative can prevent such activities or retaliate against workers who engage in political discussion or collective action anywhere, including online.

These are but some of the ideas which could be included. The bill of rights could be at the municipal/local, provincial, and/or national level.

Retail workers’ organization OUR Walmart has a Declaration of Respect. Recently, retail and food workers in Baltimore presented an employer with a proposed bill of rights, supported by UNITE HERE. Domestic workers in New York organized and they won a bill of rights in 2010. Their victory offers lessons. Which governments would be interested in implementing a bill of rights? Which individual politicians would introduce such a bill?

A Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights – is this an idea whose time has come? Retail workers, their allies, and all those who know we need to revolutionize retail will answer that question, together.


Leading Change in Retail

Because retail workers are so devalued, creative and dynamic strategies are needed to tackle this devaluation and change the dominant ideas about retail work. Two particularly noteworthy initiatives are taking up this task, and promoting a crucial shift in how retail workers and work are both viewed and valued.Retail_Justice_Alliance

Just yesterday, the Retail Justice Alliance was launched in the US. This coalition brings together diverse leaders and policy experts committed to propelling change in retail through education, research, and collective action.

In Ireland, the Mandate Trade Union is promoting positive change in retail through various routes, including with the Respect Retail Workers campaign. This project specifically confronts abuse of retail workers, but also fosters understanding and social solidarity across sectors.

Both initiatives rightly highlight the role retail plays in the lives of millions of people, but also its significance in the economy more broadly. Put concisely, retail matters not only because it affects the lives of millions of people, but because it affects everyone. These kinds of campaigns should be expanded globally, to help challenge misperceptions and revolutionize retail.

Diverse, Global Political Action Across the Walmart Supply Chain

Following the latest horrific fire in a Bangladeshi garment factory in which 112 poor workers were killed, there has been increased discussion about the responsibilities global retailers and governments have to ensure safe and fair conditions across retail supply chains, from factories to stores. Workers are using a range of strategies to raise concerns and express solidarity within and across borders.

Hundreds of Bangladeshi workers are engaged in a hunger strike. Chinese workers are protesting their conditions in Walmart factories. A thousand workers in Argentina engaged in  solidarity strikes with Walmart strikers in the US.  The largest private sector employer in the world is now facing an unprecedented wage-theft law-suit Imagelaunched by US contract workers employed in warehouses supplying Walmart stores. Undoubtedly, the pressure is mounting for Walmart to improve its practices. Will 2013 be the year workers’ movements win big changes?

Retail Workers Uniting – Locally and Globally

Retail workers and their supporters have been busy raising retail issues across North America and around the world, even during this busy holiday working/shopping season.

When workers at a Winnipeg Staples store unionized, they made history, becoming the first organized location in North America.

Workers in nearly a dozen countries around the world engaged in a global day of action for the rights of Walmart workers everywhere, coordinated through the UNI Global Union Alliance @Walmart.  Check out photos from the actions here.

Zellers workers and their allies delivered over 1000 letters to Target Canada head office, calling on the company to respect Canadian retail workers.  See national news coverage of their efforts here.

Photo by UFCW Canada.

Proving yet again the power of collective action, the Retail Action Project has secured $925 000 for workers at a NY-based retailer in a wage theft settlement.

IGA and Staples Workers Unionize

Building on a year of great momentum in the retail sector, workers in two beautiful Canadian provinces have unionized, choosing to unite in order to collectively self-advocate. Workers at the IGA grocery store in Surrey, British Columbia have voted to join UFCW Local 1518. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, workers at Staples have also organized, joining UFCW Local 832.

ufcw 401 flag

Black Friday Rundown – History in the Making

Last week I met with OUR Walmart organizers in the San Francisco Bay area who are building towards the historic strikes at Walmart stores across the United States this Friday, November 23rd.  I heard of the exciting and creative actions workers are organizing, and of their courageous commitment to speaking out and fostering unity.   It is clear how much support there is for retail workers within their communities, in unions, and among elected representatives.  This growing coalition is a powerful statement on the present and future of the retail workers’ movement, and on the ever-increasing awareness of the importance of revolutionizing retail for the good of those working in the sector, and our societies, more broadly. This movement is truly historic and laying the foundation for a more hopeful future.

For a list of Black Friday Action, click here.

To sponsor a striker, click here.

To read a thorough but concise breakdown of the Walmart strikers’ issues, click here.

To read the International Transport Workers’ Federation statement on their solidarity actions, click here.

To read the new Demos report on retail wages, click here.

Retail Workers Organizing to Keep Statutory Holidays


Retail workers in Toronto, Canada, including those in CAW Local 414, are working to keep the current nine statutory holidays as days off for retail workers. Read about their efforts here.  Given how hard folks in retail work, and often for so little, this is an important work-life issue. It also could encourage discussion about paid holidays for retail workers.  Some unionized retail workers have paid holidays through their collective agreements, but most do not. As a comparison, all retail workers in Sweden enjoy five weeks of paid holidays.

Global Support and Coverage for Walmart Workers

The retail workers’ movement is growing, and Walmart strikers are attracting international attention.  Members of OUR Walmart have announced their intention to expand and increase their collective actions, targeting “Black Friday,” a major US shopping day and the beginning of the holiday shopping season, the biggest money maker for retailers. Their call for change has inspired workers around the world.

Making Change photo.

Here is global media coverage of the strikes in the Guardian.

Walmart is the largest private sector employer in the world, and it affects labour standards and relations in retail and beyond.  Workers at Walmart rightly believe they deserve a say in setting those standards.