I’d never heard of Valley Stream. It sounds like the sorta non-descript town that could be anywhere in America. (Apparently it’s in New York.) It has a population of 37,000 people. Around 260 of those people are employed at their local Target. They may not sound terrible exciting, but these people are movers and shakers. I say that because some of those 260 Valley Stream employees have done something no one else in twenty years has done: they tried to unionize Target.
The idea was to have workers of Target join the United Commercial and Food Workers Union. Employees had complained about low wages and not getting enough hours a week to support themselves. (Various employees were on foodstamps and some parents were only able to get 10 hours a week. Definitely not what most would consider a livable wage.) These people petitioned for union representation. A member of the local U.C.F.W. union worked with them, contacted the other employees at Target, explained the benefits of joining a union, and then most of the employees voted on whether or not to join. It failed by a vote of 85 for and 137 against, but still it set a precedent. Other people working for big box stores and surviving on low wages, could stand up for themselves and tackle Goliath. Maybe the next group would be more successful. (Indeed, other Target stores in New York are already talking about trying to unionize.)
Target isn’t the only bad guy here (I’m looking at you, Walmart) but they definitely didn’t do themselves any favors with the working class. They have been accused of bullying, restricting the rights of employees to wear pro-union buttons, and not allowing employees to discuss current working conditions. Worse yet, all incoming employees have to watch this hilariously bad video which talks about how unions only want you so they can collect union dues, would force you to not be able to help customers, and could shut down the Target you work for. It’s a shameless piece of propaganda. And sadly, so far it’s worked.
I’m not saying unions don’t have their flaws (They’re also know for bullying tactics and discrimination) but when you have 1,755 stores and net earnings (just for 2010) of $2,920,000,000.00, you can afford to pass along some of that to your employees. Target supposedly prides itself on being a shining beacon of corporate responsibility. If it really cares about the communities it serves, it should take the initiative to support its workers more. It doesn’t even have to unionize to do that. Increasing wages or allowing people enough hours so they can apply for health insurance would be a step in the right direction.
Bobbi Clemons is an an activist, pseudo-educator, and sometimes writer whose passion for all things geeky rivals her love of Norway.