December 2, 2021

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Retailers are struggling to staff the holiday shopping season, and it could be good for workers

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A lot of people do not want to work in retail right now—I really, really see it,” a personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman told The New York Times. “People are not feeling appreciated or fairly compensated, and I think this whole COVID thing has made them really rethink that. They want to feel valued.”

Some chains say they are working on the compensation side, at least. Saks Off Fifth raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour. Walmart’s minimum wage is now $12 an hour, but new hires in some stores are now starting at $17 an hour. Nordstrom’s bonus and incentive pay topped out at $400 for the 2020 holiday season but could reach $650 this year. Amazon warehouse jobs can come with up to $3,000 as a signing bonus. Macy’s is giving current employees referral bonuses of up to $500 if they help bring in new employees. 

Other retailers are offering some additional flexibility. Best Buy is allowing job applicants to submit videos rather than be in-person for first-round interviews. L.L. Bean’s call center workers are now remote—as the percentage of remote workers drops, but many people are still looking for such jobs—and, its CEO said, “we have changed our shift structure so you can do two- or four-hour shifts.” Saks Off Fifth not only won’t be open on Thanksgiving this year—something an increased number of retailers are steering clear of—but won’t have extended holiday hours.

But while retail companies say they’re having trouble finding the workers they need, some job seekers say retail companies don’t seem to be interested in them. One 62-year-old Texas man with decades of retail experience told The Washington Post he had only gotten three interviews since June, and in one, the store manager strongly implied he wasn’t getting the job because of his age. This is not someone who’s holding out for high pay—one job he was recently disappointed not to get paid $11 an hour.

An experienced bartender looking for work in Los Angeles said many places he applied are being more, not less, specific in their demands of workers. “The preeminent vibe I’m getting is the people hiring are desperate, but they are unwilling to adjust their expectations at all,” he told the Post. That’s bars, not retail, but it’s not hard to imagine that outside of the incentives retail companies are telling the Times they’re offering, the reality of finding retail work is also in many cases that of companies being desperate and demanding at the same time.

And, as companies struggle to find workers for whatever reason, the ones they have are burning out on increased demands. In the recent Nabisco strike and the ongoing Kellogg’s strike, workers are citing mandatory overtime as a key issue pushing them to the brink. Amazon, where warehouse workers suffer high rates of injuries and turnover is astronomically high, has traditionally had mandatory overtime during high-demand periods, like the holidays.

October brought good news on the job creation front, but the pandemic’s economic impacts are still with us—and workers should be using this moment to demand better treatment on the job. 



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