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.

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Less Advancement Chances

Advancement in the work place was also impacted by gender. Women lagged behind men in both receiving raises and promotions. Fifty-five percent of men surveyed received a raise in their current job, whereas only 44 percent of women did. As far as climbing up the employment ladder, 36 percent of men received a promotion compared to 28 percent of women, the survey results showed.

One female survey respondent, who requested not to be named to protect her employment, went without a raise for her first three years working at Lehman College Bookstore; she made $8 an hour. She told Women's eNews that after all this time she was passed over for a promotion that went to a male co-worker, who had only been with the company for a year and a half. Though she told her boss she would give up her second job if promoted, her female manager recommended that she not be considered.

Scheduling practices, authors find, reflect nationwide trends with the creation of a "just-in-time" work force that often lacks employer-provided health insurance. Almost 60 percent of the retail work force surveyed was hired as part-time, temporary or holiday, and only 17 percent of workers surveyed have a set schedule, authors say. The vast majority, 70 percent, only know their schedules within a week.

However, white workers surveyed were more likely to have a regular schedule--while 23 percent of white workers experience frequent changes in their weekly schedule, close to twice as many Latino workers experienced such erratic scheduling.

Suppressed pay and promotions along with scheduling instability makes caring for family or remaining enrolled in school a significant challenge, further perpetuating income and educational gaps.

As for the female employee at Lehman College Bookstore, the store is now owned by a new company that guarantees raises, vacation and sick days.

"I'm much less stressed and I have advancement opportunities," she says, although she is still working two jobs while also completing her college education.

Report authors say the occupation of retail sales associate is one of six job categories estimated to experience the greatest job growth nationwide through 2018 and advocate turning them into living wage jobs with advancement opportunities. "Rather than restrict job creation, higher wages give our economy a greatly needed boost," they say.

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Samantha Kimmey is a New York-based writer.

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