|Profession||Vendor Selling Specialist, Herald Square Macy's|
|Income||$21.50/hour plus bonuses|
|Work Benefits||Vacation, paid sick days/paid time off, medical & vision & dental insurance, 401k with employer match|
|Current Location||Bronx, New York City|
1. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m from Nigeria, where I got my bachelor’s degree in fine arts. At the time when I went to university, it was free. I then immigrated to the U.S., where I’ve been working at Macy’s in Herald Square for 19 years. I began working in the home department, called “Marketplace,” but then have been promoted and have received various raises. I’ve gotten a lot of on-the-job training and today am a vendor specialist.
2. What do you do at your job? What does your daily routine look like?
My duties are to build relationships with customers and build clientele. I’m also a vendor representative in the store, and handle merchandise and displays on the sales floor. I also mentor retail workers, and train them at a non-profit organization called the Retail Action Project so I can pass on my industry knowledge to help others climb the career ladder in an industry that creates many jobs, but few good ones like mine.
3. As a child or a teenager, what did you want to be when you grew up? What is your ultimate career goal now, and do you think that’s realistic?
When I was a child, I wanted to be a doctor, then an artist. Now I’m in retail and would love to own my own business in luxury retail, and also to return to my art (sculpture) and make a living as an artist. I think it’s realistic as I can do what I set my mind to, though it will be on a smaller scale than the Kardashians!
4. What would you say your general political leanings are? Not party affiliation, per se, but your stance on work-related issues like social security, overseas manufacturing, and unions.
I consider myself to be a progressive, pro-worker person, politically. I would say that anyone who works for a company should enjoy a fair system of profit-sharing, as workers deserve benefits and should be well taken care of, since the well-being of the company depends on us. I am a member of RWDSU’s Local 1-S (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union), which is the Macy’s local at Herald Square, and I am a hugely grateful for it. Without it, I would have never lasted this long in retail, make what I make now, or get the schedule and training that I get now. When I needed surgery and had to be out for three months, my union contract protected me, and it also allows me to visit my family in Nigeria. I speak with dozens of retail workers in a month in New York City in the classes I teach for the Retail Action Project, and hear about how most don’t get even one paid sick day a year, don’t get enough hours or a steady schedule – but must have open availability and have really low wages. So I’m incredibly supportive of what unions can do for workers.
5. How have the past four years of economic instability affected your career?
Sales have just started picking up again at my store, and I’m very lucky that even though the economic situation has affected sales at Macy’s, my hours and position are protected by my collective bargaining contract with the union. I have seen how the recession affected other non-union colleagues in retail. Many people I know with years and years of experience have been forced to take jobs with hardly any hours, very low wages, and they’ve had their commissions cut and they don’t get health care.
6. What worries you the most about your job? What worries you most about your life outside of work?
At work, I want to make sure that our union stays strong and that no anti-worker legislation is passed. Outside of work, I want to focus on my personal growth, and how to find time to continue to do art.
7. Are you in a union? Does your industry have unions? Do you think your industry should unionize?
Yes, I’m a member of RWDSU’s Local 1-S (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union) at Macy’s on 34th Street in Manhattan. Unfortunately, only about 4 percent of the retail industry is unionized, and I think it should be much higher.
8. What is your proudest career accomplishment?
My proudest career accomplishment has been being able to take what I’ve learned from almost 20 years of working at Macy’s to help other retail workers. I teach free customer service training classes, as well as professional sales classes such as building client books, visual merchandising, fine jewelry, etc., to retail workers seeking better jobs in this economy. Through this, I’m able to help folks who work in an industry with a lot of job growth get better jobs, while teaching them about their rights on the job.
9. If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be? (More flexible hours, better benefits, higher salary, better job security, pension plan, etc)
I get all of the benefits listed above at my job because of our union contract, but most non-union retail workers don’t get these benefits. What I wish is that I can help workers get these basic protections and benefits at their jobs.
10. In one sentence, what's one thing you'd like America to know about you and people like you?
I would like America to know that retail workers are educated, experienced, and we work very very hard – so we deserve better wages, better benefits, and respect.
–By Jo Piazza / current.com / @jopiazza