Blog, Social Justice

Justice for Retail Workers This Holiday Season

Now is the time many people are getting their holiday shopping done. That means ordering online and hitting the sales in the stores. I wanted to share a little gratitude for retail workers.

Who are retail workers?

Retail workers span a range of positions and subsectors (e.g. general merchandise, food and beverage, and clothing/accessories). When I talk about retail workers, I’m referencing cashiers, the lowest paid position in the whole industry.

According to one study in 2016, over 90% of retail workers in cashier positions earn below $15 per hour. Across all the positions in the retail sector, cashiers consistently have the lowest pay out of all major occupations. Underemployment is also an issue with 49% of part-time workers expressing that they would like to work full-time.

There is a gender and a race issue, as well. Cashiers are disproportionately women and people of color. Women comprise 80% of cashier jobs in general merchandise stores. As positions advance and workers receive more pay, the number of people of color diminishes, and white males dominate these positions.

Where are they going??

There is a national shortage of workers, thanks to the pandemic. Retail and restaurant workers are quitting at record rates during this labor shortage. Workers are reporting leaving due to poor pay and working conditions. Workers continue to report abuse and understaffing across the retail industry.

In another survey, nearly 60% of workers said customers treat them even worse during the holidays. Rude customers also play a role in retail workers leaving these jobs to go on to different positions that do not require customer service. With a combination between this labor shortage and customers’ demands and attitudes, the treatment of retail workers may be worse than ever before.

Many of them will end up in the packing, distribution, and delivery parts of retail. Is this a better environment than dealing with nasty customers? Instead they are subjected to back-breaking labor, long hours, and few breaks for a wage that still isn’t quite a liveable one. But that doesn’t matter since these workers will be replaced before their productivity tanks and/or they have to pay them more.

What can you do to help?

Our shopping experience this year may be extra frustrating with global supply chain issues affecting shipping and processing times, as well as availability of different products. The easy thing to do is to take out that frustration on the face of the company, the cashiers and customer service employees. 

When you really think about it, do they actually have control on the availability of goods or the speed at which the lines to process transitions go? Yes, these employees can control their reactions, but they are humans, and they will not have perfect behavior. After being mistreated over and over, they may just adopt a demeanor that becomes armor to protect themselves.

During this holiday season and beyond, advocate for justice for retail workers. Get involved with the Fight for $15 movement. Support union organizing for all professions. Show your appreciation and gratitude for them showing up to work when many people don’t have to work and taking time away from their families. Tip workers when available. Kindness goes a long way. 

And if you want to read more about workers’ rights, you can check out Work Won’t Love You Back  by Sarah Jaffe!

Tayler Simon is a nerdy black woman in search of liberation for all. When she's not reading/listening to audiobooks and writing, you can find her laughing at memes and chatting incessantly about astrology (Cancer/Sagittarius/Cancer). Favorite genres: African American fiction and memoir.

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