by RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum
Retail sales in the U.S. are already surging as holiday shoppers are checking their lists and buying their gifts for the 2021 holiday season. It’s important that consumers are returning to stores this holiday season, but we are also concerned about an alarming uptick in harassment and abuse directed at retail workers, especially this year.
Retail workers in New York—including thousands of RWDSU members at stores including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, H&M, Zara, Guitar Center, and more—are eager to welcome customers back into stores this holiday season. However, workers are experiencing increased aggression and poor treatment from stressed out shoppers.
It’s been a tough time for retail workers in the U.S. and across the globe. Besides the risks to the health of workers and their families that’s hung over retail during the entire pandemic, violence, abuse, and harassment on the job skyrocketed. Tensions rose as stores and governments instituted mask, social distancing, and other COVID safety protocols, and retail workers bore the brunt of customers’ anger, often fueled by misinformation and extreme political rhetoric. Workers were yelled at, spat upon, coughed on, and worse. Some workers have even been shot at—and some murdered—by irrational customers over mask and COVID restrictions.
This type of behavior toward retail workers needs to end, and can’t simply be shrugged off as “part of the job.” We owe it to these retail workers—who have courageously served us throughout the darkest days of the pandemic—to make this a stress-free holiday season. Even in the best of times, the holiday season is very stressful for workers at retail stores and supermarkets. Big crowds, irritable customers, hectic days and the need for workers themselves to take care of their own holiday obligations can all weigh heavily on workers’ shoulders this time of year. In 2021, however, with the pandemic still a part of our lives, this stress could be exponentially worse. All of this is aggravated by a shortage of goods caused by supply chain problems this holiday season. Retail workers can become the target of shoppers’ frustration when customers hear that coveted holiday items are stuck on shipping containers at sea and have been backordered for months, especially if they’ve gone to multiple stores only to go home empty-handed.
This holiday season, we need to treat retail workers with dignity and respect, and we must understand that our own stress and the problems we are experiencing shouldn’t be placed on the shoulders of working people. Workers are not to blame. Stores should provide security, safety protocols and training to handle problems that may arise. It’s a time to come together this holiday season and do everything we can to reduce stress and anxiety for each other, and especially retail workers. A little extra kindness and understanding will go a very long way this holiday season.