Retail Industry in Depression RWDSU Leader Says; Urges Federal Action

Responding to a Labor Department report that the number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits has soared to 4.43 million, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (http://www.rwdsu.org/) is saying that quick federal action "is the only hope of keeping millions of retail workers and their families from falling into poverty."
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NEW YORK -- Responding to a Labor Department report that the number of Americans collecting unemployment benefits has soared to 4.43 million, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (http://www.rwdsu.org/) is saying that quick federal action "is the only hope of keeping millions of retail workers and their families from falling into poverty."

"Each month more retail workers are losing their jobs, their homes and their dreams for the future," said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum.

"The question isn't whether Washington should invest in job creation; it's 'how fast can they do it?'"

Appelbaum, whose union represents employees at Macy's, Bloomingdale's and other merchants, said that workers in the retail industry "are now struggling through what may be the worst holiday shopping season since the Great Depression."

"In 2006, retailers nationally added 596,000 employees to handle the holiday rush," Appelbaum said. "In contrast, retailers cut jobs by more than 91,000 in November: the biggest monthly loss in more than half a century."

"Slashing prices and offering deep discounts doesn't increase consumer spending when the average household is struggling with more than $8,500 in credit card debt," the RWDSU leader added. He went on to note that at this time last year one-third of U.S. consumers were still paying off bills from the 2006 holiday shopping season.

"There have always been consumers who'd shop until they dropped. Well, 2008 is the year that they dropped," Appelbaum said.

He noted that even prior to the current economic downturn retail workers have struggled to provide for their families. A new 40-page report by the Fiscal Policy Institute, Low Wages, No Bargain, finds that three out of every five retail workers in New York City earn less than $13 an hour. Additionally, the majority of the city's retail workers lack health care coverage, either because it is not offered or the premiums are too expensive.

"Obviously it's too late for Washington to have any impact on this shopping season, but if it takes immediate action to put money into consumers' pockets we can lay the groundwork for a better season in 2009," Appelbaum said.

"We are excited by President-elect Obama's commitment to an economic stimulus package and his support for the Employee Free Choice Act. He understands the need to create jobs, and through collective bargaining, give workers the ability to advocate for improved working conditions. The RWDSU is committed to working with the White House and Congress to make that happen."

The 100,000-member RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

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