Striking Retail Worker and Mother of Four: “If we don’t speak up, things will never change”
Chicago retail workers earn concessions from their employer after striking
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On Thursday, fast food workers from 35 cities across the country will launch a one-day strike demanding a $15 living wage.
Joining us today from Chicago is Krystal Maxie-Collins. She is one of the workers who will be participating in the strike, and she’s a mother of four who works in the shoe department at Macy’s.
Thanks for joining us, Krystal.
KRYSTAL MAXIE-COLLINS, WOCC MEMBER: Hi. Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: So, Krystal, give our viewers a sense of what life is like for you. What are the working conditions there at Macy’s?
MAXIE-COLLINS: Well, the store is split between two type of different pay structures. You have the people who are just regular hourly employees, and then you have a commissioned employee. And I’m a commissioned employee. So I make the $8.50 an hour, plus a 6.4 percent per item sold commission.
But the way it’s structured is that the $8.50 an hour is basically loaned it to me, and I have to pay that back with my sales. With me being a full-time employee, my daily sales goal can be anywhere from $900 to $1,600 a day. And if that goal isn’t met by the end of the week, then we go into what is called a deficit, and then the commission is kept in order to repay what we were supposed to make in our sales. So, basically, for that daily goal, times that by five. And for that, I bring home probably anywhere between $300 to $350 a week.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And you’re also a mother of four, and you have a schedule that is quite erratic. Is that correct? Every week it’s different?
MAXIE-COLLINS: It’s actually daily. So, like, one day I could be there–like, today I worked from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tomorrow I work from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. So, yes, it’s definitely very–it varies every day, every week. So it’s no real structure in the schedules at all.
DESVARIEUX: You already have participated in a strike before. What made you decide to participate in the strike?
MAXIE-COLLINS: Well, the reason I decided to strike is I remember the first meeting that I came to, and I was just very inspired by the fact that so many different people from different economic levels, educational levels, racial backgrounds, were all coming together for this one cause. Everyone is, you know, struggling to try to make ends meet and take care of their families or their self, and I was just very moved, to the point where I was like, you know what, you’re right. If we don’t finally speak up and voice our opinions about the things and the unfair working conditions that we’re under, then things will never change. So it was just, you know, time for a change, definitely.
DESVARIEUX: You actually had some sort of positive result, is that right? The Macy’s company, they bumped up your pay. What was the result?
MAXIE-COLLINS: Yeah. We received a $0.25 raise. So the whole store’s minimum wage went from $8.25 to $8.50. I also went from a part-time position to a full-time position.
And just recently they have changed our attendance structure, because at first we would have an attendance point system. So for every 45 to 30 minutes late, being 45 minutes late, you will reduce a half a point off of your attendance credits. For anything from an hour to a whole day off, you receive one whole point off your attendance credits. And beginning as a seasonal associate, you get three attendance points. And if you make it past your probationary period, they bump it up to eight points for the whole year. So, you know, that was a very difficult situation, because being a mother or having situations that can arise or not having a car and having to get to work by public transportation, you know, a lot of things are out of your control.
So they actually changed that point system. So now if we’re ten minutes late, we have–it went from nine to ten minutes. And also, instead of it being that it takes a whole month, basically, from the first to the 31st to gain a point back, we actually get a half a point every two weeks now. So they are making some definite changes, and I do believe that’s because of the strike.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And I should mention, in Chicago, for our viewers, the retail workers, as well as the fast food workers, were on strike and will be on strike on Thursday. How have your coworkers been sort of associating? Are they associating with the strike? Do you feel like they are supporting the strike? What’s the mood like?
MAXIE-COLLINS: Yes, I do. Yes, I do. It definitely get a lot of attention in the store. You know, everyone was talking about it. Everyone was at first concerned, of course, because anything involving striking or, you know, your job being in the balance did cause a little uproar. But, you know, once they saw us, everyone who was involved in the strike come back and know that we weren’t fired, you know, it was like, well, wow. You know.
You know, I guess, you know, that they’re very supportive. And I know if any one of my fellow employees does come and talk to me, inquiring about anything, I definitely let them know, basically, the Ps and Qs of what we can do, what we are lawfully able to do, without having any type of, you know, backlash from the job. So, yes, they are very supportive. And also, besides myself, I have about six to seven other employees in the women’s shoes department who are also a part of the union as well.
DESVARIEUX: Do you have any fears, striking on Thursday? And what are your demands?
MAXIE-COLLINS: Well, you know, there’s always fear, because you’re scared that maybe because of me putting a light on what’s going on and basically making myself such a face for my store that, yeah, there’s a little bit of fear involved. But you have to weigh the pros and cons of the situation, and I definitely believe that the cons don’t outweigh the pros. So from the strike, once we do get what we’re asking for, then it will definitely be worth it. Definitely. I have–so the little bit of fear that I do feel when I’m there and I’m able to, you know, see my fellow employees there with me supporting my cause and the union supporting me as well, it definitely squashes that fear.
But the demand that we are making is the $15 an hour, the right to form a union without any type of retaliation. And also, you know, each individual store has their really own set things that they’re looking for from their employee. But that’s basically, I can say, the common goal is the $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.
DESVARIEUX: We’ll certainly be following this strike and covering it here at The Real News.
Thank you so much for joining us, Krystal.
MAXIE-COLLINS: You’re welcome.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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