|900 workers at five local stores are in a contract dispute with a department store giant over overtime pay and wage hikes.
Macy’s contract negotiations continue as contract expires
900 workers at five local stores are in a contract dispute with a department store giant over overtime pay and wage hikes.
By Katie Johnston Globe Staff,Updated May 27, 2022, 10:14 p.m.
Workers at Macy's in Downtown Crossing are among 900 Massachusetts and Rhode Island employees of the department store chain who are in contentious union contract negotiations.
For the past month, Macy’s has been locked in negotiations with the union representing 900 area workers. On Friday, as the contract expired, a federal mediator stepped in, and talks went down to the wire as they tried to hammer out a deal.
Employees at five area stores — the Boston location in Downtown Crossing, Braintree, Natick, Peabody, and Warwick, R.I. — voted last weekend to authorize a strike. Late Friday evening, negotiations were still underway.
At issue are the department store chain’s proposals to eliminate Sunday time-and-a-half pay for new and recent hires in Massachusetts, maintain a cap on overtime pay, and limit annual wage increases to 38 to 46 cents an hour — less than in the last contract, according to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445, which represents the Macy’s workers.
Bob Whittle, a 35-year employee who works in receiving at the Natick store, was among many retail workers who came back to their jobs when stores reopened a few months into the pandemic. There was no hazard pay or other incentives, he said, and some people got sick.
“We literally risked our lives to ... get the company back on its feet,” said Whittle, who is a member of the bargaining committee. “I’ve never seen a company that’s so bent on not giving anything to anybody, even though the money’s pouring in.”
“We’re asking just for a little piece of the pie.”
A Macy’s spokeswoman declined to comment on the details of the company’s offer. “We trust the collective bargaining process and the respective leaders on both sides,” she said in a statement. “We are hopeful that we will reach a deal that is mutually beneficial to the colleagues, the company and the union.”
Brick-and-mortar retailers — and traditional department stores in particular — have struggled amid the rise of online shopping. And Macy’s has closed several New England locations in recent years, including its CambridgeSide location in December 2020. But lately the company has performed well. Revenue at Macy’s, which also owns Bloomingdale’s, was up almost 14 percent year over year in the first quarter, to $5.35 billion, exceeding analysts’ expectations, according to company earnings released Thursday. Revenue in the first quarter of 2019 was $5.5 billion.
So far, high-income shoppers have been less affected by inflation, increasing sales of more expensive items at Bloomingdale’s, chief executive officer Jeff Gennette told analysts on a post-earnings call, according to news reports. Lower-income consumers, too, have also been spending more money, he noted.
Meanwhile, with the pandemic stretching on, inflation skyrocketing, and job openings everywhere, workers around the country are demanding more from their employers, especially those that are thriving financially.
“It is totally unacceptable that a multi-billion-dollar corporation will not recognize how our union members kept one of the most recognized retail outlets afloat during the pandemic,” Fabricio DaSilva, UFCW Local 1445 secretary-treasurer, said in a statement.
The union is planning a rally at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Downtown Crossing store.
Retailers in Massachusetts were previously required to give workers premium pay on Sundays, but the state started phasing it out in 2019 — gradually lowering mandatory overtime from 1.5 times the normal hourly rate until it’s eliminated next year. The previous Macy’s contract held it at 1.5, and the union refuses to accept anything less. The Sunday rate is still 1.5 times the regular wage in Rhode Island.
The wage cap on overtime pay is also a hotly contested item. Currently, even employees who make more than $20 an hour are paid overtime only on their first $20, and the union is fighting to raise that cap or get it rid of it all together.
Workers said Macy’s proposals, including annual raises that are 12 percent less than they were in the previous contract, is insulting considering everything they’ve been through, in addition to the sharply increased cost of living.
“We’re not going to back down,” said Kim Caputo, who works in women’s fragrances in Warwick and is a member of the bargaining committee. “We should be valued, and we don’t feel that right now.”