Big crowds, irritable customers, busy days and the need for workers themselves to take care of their own holiday obligations can all weigh heavily on workers’ shoulders during the stressful holiday season. Too many shoppers don’t appreciate the pressure that retail workers are under this time of year.
And, especially for retail workers in nonunion stores, the stress of the holidays is stacked on top of the daily obstacles they face every day of the year: insufficient hours, poverty wages that don’t support families and unpredictable scheduling that makes it difficult to work another job, plan child care or attend school. Nonunion retail workers might have no control over when they work, regardless of their own holiday plans, and they likely won’t be compensated fairly for working during the holidays. For these workers, it can be a struggle just to survive— to say nothing of providing their families with a joyous season.
Because of the changing face of retail and an uncertain future for many retail workers, this holiday season will be more stressful than ever. The American economy is shedding thousands of nonunion brick and mortar retail jobs a month as more shoppers turn to e-commerce giants such as Amazon, causing many retail workers to worry that their jobs will be next. Expanding e-commerce has also led to lost commissions for retail sales workers who spend time assisting customers, only to lose the sale when customers order the item online, often with the encouragement of the store itself. Every year, more retail workers find themselves being tasked with helping to fulfill online orders, which creates even more work and more stress, and can also hurt sales associates who earn commissions by keeping them off the sales floor.
As difficult as the holiday season can be for workers, there are ways we can help make the holidays better for everyone involved in the shopping rush. Consumers can shop at unionized retailers, where workers have the kinds of protections and benefits provided only by a union contract. For instance, a historic contract negotiated by RWDSU members at Bloomingdale’s flagship New York City store this year became the first in which an employer recognized the toll e-commerce is taking on workers, and mandated that employees cannot be asked to do online order fulfillment work when a commission sales opportunity is present.
This holiday season, if you are working in retail, call on your fellow workers and your union for support and assistance. And for everyone else, when you are doing your holiday shopping, take some time to consider the stress the workers who are helping create holiday memories are under. Lend a smile—and some patience—to workers and your fellow shoppers. It’s the time of year we can all give a little back and do our best to spread goodwill.