The latest Jobs Report was released Friday, and it brings some welcome news. During the month of December our economy added 200,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 8.5%.
Retailers added 28,000 jobs, but food retailers are not foreseeing a full recovery for 2012, and department stores had a holiday season marked by deep discounts and sales that fell short of expectations.
In the 21st century American economy, more families will depend on retail jobs. These jobs are the backbone of our service economy, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that retail and other service jobs is one of the fastest growing sectors in our economy. The fact is that retail jobs are going to define how it is to live and work in America the way that manufacturing jobs once did. That’s why it’s so critically important that these are jobs where workers can earn a steady, family-supporting paycheck with middle class wages and benefits.
Yet, many retail workers have to cobble together 40 hours from two or three jobs. They don’t have a schedule they can count on. Their employers purposely skimp on hours, preventing full-time schedules so they won’t have to provide benefits. And the painful irony of the holiday season hiring boom is that the same workers who report to work at midnight on Black Friday are prevented from working a forty-hour week or earning overtime wages that would allow them to make their own holidays special.
If retail is going to be the future for millions of American workers, the sector can’t be staffed by people scrambling from one retail job to another. It’s not good for our economy, for retailers, or for workers who desperately need secure, full-time jobs that pay the bills and allow them to live a middle class life.
In a real sense, these workers and their families are the economy; they are the job creators. Workers who earn middle class wages are able to buy cars, food, and clothes. They take their families out to eat on special occasions. They save money instead of living on credit cards. They buy school uniforms and pay tuition, rent, and bills. And they buy and maintain homes.
The best way for retail workers to make positive changes is by sticking together in a union. UFCW members are able to bargain with their employers to share in their success. Having a union voice on the job means workers can make sure they’re compensated and treated in a way that reflects the value of their hard work. UFCW members have been successful bargaining fair wages, benefits, and respect on the job for both full-time and part-time workers in supermarkets, retail stores across the country. They know firsthand that people will only really start feel like the economy is on its way to a full recovery when families start earning middle class wages and benefits.