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.

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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?

What is the Role of the Canadian Government?

In the shadow of Target’s move into Canada, the UFCW raises a crucial issue for retail workers. Should the Canadian government have a responsibility to protect jobs, particularly when foreign retail companies move into Canada? The UFCW’s position is here. This issue warrants further discussion by retail and all other workers, and prompts us to think about what democracy really means, the rights of workers, the rights of corporations, and what the Canadian government could be doing.