RWDSU to shoppers: Treat retail, warehouse, farm workers with respect
Retail workers are asking to be respected on the job by their companies and by their customers. | Anat Givon/AP

NEW YORK —Retail workers, trying to deal with hordes of customers between now and New Year’s Day, warehouse workers—especially at Amazon—engaging in backbreaking and sometimes dangerous toil to get your goods to you, and farmworkers who put food on your holiday tables need dignity and respect from you as a consumer, the head of a top retail union says.

That’s because they face many problems on the job. The holiday season makes the problems worse, says Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“The stress and pressure for retail workers during the holiday season is exacerbated by a continuing rise in incidents of workplace violence,” he explains. “Incidents of harassment, violence and hate are striking fear…in workers already worried about their physical safety and mental health.”

Frustrated shoppers, Applebaum explained, take out their anger over rising prices and short supplies of desired products on the workers, who aren’t to blame when bosses jack up prices and ships—most of them foreign-flagged–often get marooned off West Coast ports, waiting to unload their goods and slowing down the supply chain.

“Workers are not to blame, and stores should provide security, safety protocols and training to handle irate shoppers this season as well as safe staffing levels,” he urged. “And shoppers need to treat workers with dignity and respect–period.’

The problem is even worse behind the scenes, in the nation’s warehouses, and especially at the prime offender, Amazon. Its workers “face inhumane quotas and unsafe working conditions. Every year at this time, Amazon workers across the world are forced to work mandatory overtime at an often-unattainable pace that results in injuries, often causing irreparable damage.”

Applebaum didn’t say so, but Amazon’s on-the-job injury rate is double that of its warehouse peers. It’s been hit with many Occupational Safety and Health Administration citations for unsafe working conditions—everything from falling crates to musculoskeletal injuries to being run over.

“Workers at Amazon’s warehouses are pushed to the limits to meet unreasonable quotas from nameless and faceless algorithms and apps on their phones. Amazon must be held accountable for the health and safety needs of its employees and reduce its unbearable pace of work,” he declared.

It also must halt its union-busting. That anti-worker campaign should give consumers pause before buying anything online from the monster warehouser and retailer.

One more group of workers deserves consumers’ respect not just in the holiday season, but all year, Appelbaum said: Farmworkers. Many are migrants from North to South, depending on what crops are ready to pick. Almost all are some of the most-exploited in the nation, since federal labor law doesn’t cover them. Some are undocumented people, making them even more vulnerable.

“They too deserve the same rights as other workers, including the right to organize and improve working conditions. They toil in extreme heat and cold to ensure precious time with our families builds tasty traditions and this time of year is truly a season of love and warmth,” he said.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.