Macys. This, photo shows corporate signage at Macy's flagship store in Manhattan, in New York. Macy's Inc. reports earnings Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017Earns Macys, New York, USA - 02 May 2017

Union workers at four New York area Macy’s stores will soon be negotiating a new contract despite the many unknowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

At issue is the contract for 4,300 Macy’s employees in four locations — Herald Square, Queens Center Mall, Parkchester in the Bronx and White Plains in Westchester County — which will expire next month, according to the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union’s president, Stuart Appelbaum.

Their contract first expired May 1, but it had an automatic 45-day extension clause. Macy’s has since agreed to a two-week extension, which means the expiration date is June 30.

Initially union officials proposed a one-year contract extension and then a six-month one, due to the pandemic. Macy’s declined such lengthy extensions because of the number of contracts the retailer needs to negotiate next year, according to Appelbaum. A Macy’s spokeswoman did not address that specifically Wednesday.

“We are absolutely amazed that Macy’s is insisting on negotiating now,” he said. “All of the stores in New York are still closed. They don’t know when they are going to reopen. None of their employees are working. We don’t know what the stores are going to look like or how they’re going to operate when they reopen.”

The three main areas of concern are the safety of employees and union members, COVID-19/pandemic response and employee recall, the union leader said. Appelbaum said RWDSU members are worried about going back to work, based on what he alleged are “inadequate” procedures that have been put in place at other Macy’s stores that have reopened. Requiring employees to wear masks, but not requiring customers to wear them is one example, Appelbaum said.

Asked for comment, a Macy’s spokeswoman said in a statement Wednesday, “We believe that Macy’s Inc. offers a great work environment with fair pay and good benefits. We continue to request dates for bargaining with the RWDSU Local 1-S in good faith. We believe the union should come to the table on behalf of its members and remain committed to pursuing an agreement that is fair to all parties. There are always unknowns in collective bargaining negotiations. The union and Macy’s both have the obligation to forecast, as best as possible, how to resolve those unknowns and build in contingencies for future events. Macy’s is simply seeking to comply with its duty to bargain prior to the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement.”

The statement continued, “Additionally, Macy’s top priority is the safety and security of its colleagues and customers. We are following the CDC’s recommended everyday preventative measures, as well as all local and state orders, in accordance with New York State On Pause, and have continued to offer bargaining via a web-based platform of the union’s choosing, or conference call.”

Appelbaum claimed that Macy’s had proposed that the union’s 36-person negotiating committee attend an in-person meeting in Manhattan. The Macy’s spokeswoman did not address that question directly via e-mail. Appelbaum questioned the safety aspect of meeting in person, since attendees would need to use public transportation to get there and that a lot of them are “in vulnerable categories” health-wise.

From a contract standpoint, RWDSU officials and members are concerned that if older, diabetic and other vulnerable workers do not immediately return to work, when asked to, that they could lose their jobs. Appelbaum said when Macy’s needed a few workers to come back to retrieve some merchandise from the Herald Square store (due allegedly to limited merchandise in the distribution center), those workers were selected by seniority on a volunteer basis. “What we’re concerned about is that that continues as they recall people,” he said.

The union provided an update to Local 1-S members Tuesday highlighting some of the challenges it perceives would make negotiations difficult now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Negotiations are expected to start before the end of the month but they will not be conducted in person, the union said.

Macy’s plans to host its annual Fourth of July fireworks is another point of consternation for the RWDSU leader, even though the fireworks were strongly defended by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Wouldn’t it be nice if they spent the $6 million [the estimated expense for the fireworks] on their own workforce? That would be a much better way to show their support to New York City,” he claimed.

The Macy’s spokeswoman declined to comment regarding the Fourth of July fireworks.