1) Low pay
In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported average wages of $10.29 per hour for retail workers. This above federal minimum wage but still below the minimum wages in some areas, like Seattle and San Francisco, both of which have approved $15 minimum wages; San Francisco is gradually escalating until it reaches $15 in 2018. However, this falls far below the so-called “living wage,” the amount of money workers need to survive comfortably in a given region.
2) Part-time scheduling
The abuse of part-time employment and scheduling practices is a perennial problem in the retail industry. Hiring multiple part-time employees tends to be less costly than hiring full-timers, especially if a company offers benefits; keeping hours just below the part-time limit ensures that an employee isn’t entitled to health care subsidies, sick days, and other benefits options. In regions where municipalities haven’t moved to aggressively promote employee benefits—San Francisco’s mandatory health care for employees is an example—retail employees are often forced to spread themselves thin across several workplaces to make ends meet.
3) Anti-organizing practices
Many major corporations are involved in union suppression and anti-organizing practices, such as misleading employees about what can happen under unionization and intimidating organizers. Walmart is one major offender, and the company is in the news not just because of the Alameda County suit, but because during the years Hillary Clinton sat on Walmart’s board, she said little on the subject of its anti-union activities. Instead, she watched the company suppress labor organizing. That could become a contentious issue in the election, as Democrats have historically relied on union support.
4) Wage theft
In Walmart’s case, the firm is avoid paying part-time workers by shifting additional work onto assistant managers, thus depriving part-timers of pay. Because these workers are paid on a salaried and not hourly basis, they accrue overtime without receiving overtime wages, representing a significant savings to the corporation. This is just one among many tactics used to squeeze unpaid hours out of workers, and as Steven Greenhouse reports at the New York Times, workers are fighting back. Critically, he noted, regulatory agencies “assert that more companies are violating wage laws than ever before, pointing to the record number of enforcement actions they have pursued.”
5) Unpredictable scheduling
In addition to putting workers in an awkward position with part-time scheduling, companies also create an even more troubling dynamic in the workplace by making schedules highly unstable. They’re often issued week by week without notice, and employees may find that they don’t work a steady, predictable schedule from week to week—which makes planning ahead very difficult. Sometimes changes are made even after a schedule is issued, and employees are required to accommodate them or take unpaid days off if they need to attend doctor’s appointments or meet other obligations.
6) Racism and sexual harassment
Cases of racism, sexual harassment, transphobia, religious discrimination, and more regularly crop up in the news. In 2013, Target was called out for a racist training document that made disparaging comments about “Mexicans” and “Cubans.” Samantha Elauf made headlines for being one of many employees or applicants to Abercrombie & Fitch who was rejected on the basis of not fitting in with the company’s “look”—in her case, because she was a hijabi and she refused to remove her scarf for work.
7) Little to no benefits
Many retail firms don’t offer benefits at all, even to full-time employees, unless they are required to do so. Employees may not be eligible for health care, paid sick days, vacation time, and other benefits; consequently, many feel under pressure to work every day because they can’t afford to take time off and they don’t want to be fired for needing to be out of the workplace.
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