Retail Industry Split On the Need for Unions, Says Poll

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As organized labor bickers over strategies for reversing the continuing decline in union membership, an informal July 5th poll reflected a similar schism over the very need for unions in retailing: 52 percent said "yes" they are necessary, to 45 percent saying "no."

A fight is taking place over the future direction of national organized labor. At the heart of the matter is a fractious disagreement over how to reverse the decline in union membership around the country.

Last month, the presidents of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Laborers, and UNITE HERE formed the "Change To Win Coalition." The group, which represents about 35 percent of the total membership of the AFL-CIO, said union leadership has failed to put enough support into organizing new members.

The issue of the relevancy of organized labor in retailing was posted for discussion on under the story heading "Labor Schism Widens." An accompanying Instant Poll of the web site's professional retailing audience showed a slight majority dismissing the importance of unions in retailing, and those sentiments were in evidence in commentary by RetailWire's BrainTrust of retail industry experts.

"If you are a retail worker, just ask yourself what the union will do for you," wrote David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research. "Is it really worth the few dollars per hour more that a union might be able to provide if it only causes the premature demise of your employer, loss of pay due to strikes, or the closing down of viable locations? Sometimes I think that if unions had not tied so many retailers' hands, Wal-Mart would not be as strong as they are."

Jeff Weitzman, President and COO of Coupons, Inc., sees the possibility that unions could be relevant again in today's political climate. "If you are a worker watching the government's decidedly pro-business turn, but don't feel like you're benefiting from it at all, you're a good candidate for recruitment by a union."

However, Weitzman expressed strong doubts over organized labor's ability to sort out priorities and pull membership back into the fold. "Unions have focused so much on job retention that they have watered down everyone's ability to get ahead. If I was a good, productive worker, not able to get a merit raise or feeling like I was carrying two other workers mandated by a union contract, I wouldn't be too happy with the union either."

"If unions can redefine themselves to once again be seen as the worker's champion, standing as a bulwark against perceptions of corporate greed and a government that cares more about corporate profits than about the quality of life for corporate workers, they have a chance to regain some ground," concluded Weitzman.

See the full story: "Labor Schism Widens" ... plus the accompanying Instant Poll and commentary from the RetailWire BrainTrust panel:    
(Free registration required)    

RetailWire editor-in-chief George Anderson has recently been featured on CBS Marketwatch radio and NPR. He is available for interviews and commentary: George Anderson 908-709-1690.    


RetailWire is a unique online news analysis and discussion forum, launched in February 2002. RetailWire goes beyond conventional headline news reporting. Each business morning, RetailWire editors pick news topics worthy of commentary by its "BrainTrust" panel of industry experts, and the general RetailWire membership. The results are virtual round tables of industry opinion and advice covering key dynamics and issues affecting the retailing industry.    

Membership to RetailWire is free to all qualified retail industry professionals. Over two-thirds of members are in top executive or senior management positions, representing a broad cross section of retail channels and the companies that supply them.    

RetailWire is supported by sponsorships from leading retail suppliers and service organizations. Sponsorship packages take the form of information-rich "Business TIPS." Current sponsors include Campbell Soup, ACNielsen, Unilever, Hershey's, Nestlé Purina, DemandTec, Interactive Edge and Concept Shopping.    

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