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Union Square Macy’s Workers Went on a Two-Day Pre-Christmas Strike Over Failed Negotiations

After months of fighting for a fair labor contract, workers at the Macy’s Union Square location went on strike on December 23 and 24. Contract negotiations between members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 5 and the company had broken down, with the company’s offer rejected as harmful to workers and customers, including pay raises found to be insufficient in the face of a San Francisco cost of living that has skyrocketed over the past year. 

Two picket lines covered the entirety of the store on Geary and O’Farrell Streets while the store remained open for business. Chants of “Don’t shop at Macy’s!” greeted holiday shoppers, who navigated picket lines and a giant inflatable Scabby rat, while others stopped to support the striking workers and take up picket signs themselves.

Inflatable Scabby rat at Macy’s Union Square strike

“They’re trying to get rid of the full-time positions of the merchandisers, the merchandisers that are our backbone,” said Elizabeth Dmitriew, a salesperson at the domestics department for over 30 years. “Macy’s was given ample opportunity to work this out with us, and they’re not suffering any losses.”

Striking workers distributed flyers reading, “Despite more than $25 billion in sales and a profit of more than $1 billion over the last 12 months, Macy’s has offered its associates a pay increase of less than 2.5% an hour over three years while proposing to reduce staff, undermine seniority rights, and refusing to provide affordable health insurance. The result of the company’s insulting offer would be increased poverty for workers and less customer service for shoppers.”

Macy’s reported $108 million in their third-quarter net income. According to John Frahm, secretary-treasurer of UFCW Local 5, the company claimed that they “couldn’t afford a reasonable offer.” He also said that there are provisions in the contract that doesn’t require Macy’s to pay for sick leave until after a waiting period, and if workers are eligible for sick leave, they’d only pay them for 75% of it.

“Nobody is ever 75% sick,” said Frahm. “So, if I was scheduled to work eight hours and I’m past my waiting period, I only get six hours of pay. In this environment, they must come to work when they’re sick because they can’t afford to stay home.”

Frahm also expressed gratitude for other unions that work at Macy’s, showing solidarity, such as SEIU Local 87, which represents janitorial staff. He also noted that supporters came by to deliver cookies, customers joined the picket line, and drivers passing by honked their horns in support.

Workers shouting, “Don’t shop at Macy’s!” while on strike at Macy’s Union Square

Gladys Orellana, a merchandiser in the handbag department, said that even after working at Macy’s for 22 years, it’s especially hard now to pay for rent and food. “Everything is expensive,” she said. “I have to pay for everything to support my family, so it’s really hard.”

Joanne Billante, a salesperson at the fashion jewelry department, works full-time, but is afraid that the company will reduce her hours to part-time. “After 38 years at Macy’s, I only make $20 per hour. People think I’m making a lot of money here after working here for so long, and now the company wants to cut us to part-time so they don’t have to pay for benefits.”

Billante also said she accrued ample vacation time, but with the threats of being cut to part-time, her vacation time could be reduced from 30 days to 2 days.

According to Frahm, Macy’s responded to the strike by claiming they were “saddened” by the vote to authorize the strike and that they received complaints about “being too loud.” They’re also telling workers that the strike is costing them a lot of money.

“The union gave them every alternative and plenty of opportunities to give us a better contract,” said Dmitriew. “We could’ve gone on strike on Black Friday, which could’ve hurt the business a little bit. But we gave them plenty of time to work this out with us, so they’re not losing money over this.”

As of now, the union is encouraging the company to come back to the bargaining table. Frahm said if they will not work to reach a reasonable agreement, they’re prepared to organize more pickets.

“Whether it’s gonna be two days again or whether it’s going to be ongoing will be a decision made by the membership,” said Frahm. “We’re fully prepared to go ahead and strike again if necessary.”

Photos by Savannah Kuang

Savannah is a freelance writer and photographer, organizer, and San Francisco resident. She (or they) covers actions, police, and labor for SFIJ.

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