Friday, April 08, 2005

Unionizing teens 

Target stores are not unionized. The United Food and Commercial Workers (an AFL-CIO member), who've long attacked Wal-Mart, are now setting their sites on Target.

Union organizers in the U.S. and Canada have accused Wal-Mart of using force and intimidation to prevent organized labor from forming a beachhead in its stores. Last month, Wal-Mart said it would close a store in Jonquiere, Quebec, where 200 workers were close to winning the first union contract at the retail giant.

Yet officials with Local 789 say Target, like its larger competitor, does not pay its workers enough to live. Workers at the company's stores in the Twin Cities typically make $7 to $10 an hour, according to informal wage surveys done by Local 789 of employees that have left the company. Less than half the company's workers are covered by Target's health insurance plan, the union estimates.

Thornton-Greear could neither confirm nor deny these numbers.

"The only difference between Target and Wal-Mart is that Wal-Mart is six times their size," Hesse said. "Target was once the darling of the state, but now they've adopted Wal-Mart's business model and are in a race to the bottom as far as wages and benefits."

The union is urging local residents to voice their opposition to the city of West St. Paul's decision to grant Target $731,000 in tax-increment financing -- in which the retailer does not have to pay taxes on the increased value of the site created by its conversion to a SuperTarget. As part of the deal, Target has agreed to create 19 new jobs at the SuperTarget.

"You can do the math," Hesse said. "That's $38,000 a job for a company that does not need monetary incentives to renovate its stores."

I'll agree that this is not a good candidate for TIF, but if the city of St. Paul is handing out the TIF candy, you can't blame Target for sticking out a hand to have some. As to the "race to the bottom" and the wages these jobs pay, the Night Writer -- from whom I found this story via email from Chad the Elder -- explains what these stories are about.

Her starting pay for her first ever job: $7.25 an hour. (Well above the minimum wage, by the way, but that's a post for another day).

No health benefits, but this wasn't an issue since (as much as she may hate to admit it) she's still a dependent and is covered under the benefits from my (non-union) job. She liked the flexibility of her part-time hours and says she thought the 401k plan was nice but not something she was interested in (her immediate goals were saving for her education expenses).

She was there to make some money, not to make a living, and I'd say she found her exploitation acceptable and a fair exchange that fit her current needs and interests - and probably those of many of her co-workers. Target understands this and offers whatever market-based wage and benefits package is required to attract employees. The key word there is "attract" employees, inferring that these workers are happy to accept the jobs rather than take them by force, which seems to be the attitude of the union.
It's silly really. Only 6.1% of retail workers are in unions or represented by them. Full-time workers in unionized retail outlets make $560 a week on average, while those not in unions average $507. That's a good difference but less than half of the $130 difference between union and non-union wages for all private sector workers. But, that's only full-timers, which most workers in a Target are not. And importantly, unionizing Target probably costs jobs Night Writer's daughter Faith her job, as the union would use rules that increase the number of full-time jobs and destroy the starter jobs that teach Faith and other teens the values of being on time, courtesy and serving customers.