Equal Pay/Fair Wage

Non-Union Retail Workers Bear Costs of Bias

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Female retail workers in the New York area experience hardships common in a sector plagued by low pay, little health insurance, scheduling instability and an abuse of part-time job status, a Retail Action Project report finds today.

wage theft protestNEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Female retail workers in New York are less likely than men to have health coverage and paid time off, as well as less likely to receive a promotion, a report issued today by the Retail Action Project finds.

The advocacy group also finds a gender-pay gap among the respondents, all of whom worked in non-unionized large stores or national chains.

While the outlook for all non-unionized retail workers is poor--often with a high turnover rate, low wages and lack of health benefits--women and minorities in particular face difficult obstacles.

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In its survey of 436 workers--59 percent of whom were women--the New York-based group found that women report earning a median $9 per hour versus $10.13 for men. These disparities are amplified for female women of color: The data gathered indicates that 77 percent of Latinas and 42 percent of black women earn less than $10 per hour, while 39 percent of white women were paid at that rate.

Retail employs approximately 7.8 million women, almost 12 percent of working women in the United States and more than any other sector, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The report finds deterioration in the conditions for most of its surveyed pool, male and female, and points to unionized stores as a model for improving fairness in wages, scheduling and benefits.

"A union is one of the best ways to eliminate racial and gender discrimination in the workplace," authors say. "In order to propel both local and national economies forward, we must reverse the declining standards in the retail industry. As a leading industry in job growth, creating family-sustaining jobs in the retail industry must be a part of any strategy to address the growing inequality in America."

Lack of Health Benefits

Only 29 percent of respondents at the non-unionized stores surveyed have health benefits; 28 percent of female respondents compared to 31 percent of men. For the majority of workers who did not receive insurance through their employer, about 25 percent live without insurance and 34 percent rely on government programs.

Less than half of workers received paid time off or paid sick days and, overall, fewer than 25 percent of retail workers had ever taken advantage of a paid sick day. While men and women tracked closely in terms of paid sick days, with 44 percent of women and 45 percent of men receiving them, there was a bigger difference in paid time off. Only 43 percent of women received paid time off, while 51 percent of men had the benefit, the group says.

The report's authors criticize recent government policies that "reward the use of a majority part-time work force and discourage the creation of sustainable retail careers."

Eligibility for benefits--including health insurance--is limited to include only workers explicitly designated as full-time, the minority of the retail work force, the report claims. The authors also say that many so-called part-time workers are working full-time hours (a median of 35 hours a week during high seasons) while being excluded from the benefit structure of health insurance, paid time off and sick days.

The conditions lead to a high turnover rate, but "retailers have calculated that the cost of hiring and training new employees is less than providing benefits to retain a steady work force -- especially as most employees receive minimal training," the report says.

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