WASHINGTON – The National Retail Federation is going on the offensive, running two 30-second television advertising spots during the Democratic primary debate on Saturday to highlight career opportunities in the retail industry and counter what it says are union attack ads.

“In the heat of political rhetoric, it is easy to forget that retail businesses and the people who work in them not only drive the nation’s economy but also bring great passion and energy to what they do,” said Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer at the association. “NRF refuses to allow vested political interests to undercut the millions of men and women who are proud to work in retail, and we will continue to ensure that current and future legislators on the local, state and federal levels know the true value of retail jobs.”

In one ad, retail workers tell stories about advancement in their retail careers from entry-level to general manager, highlighting the skills they learned such as accounting or taking on the responsibility of employees’ livelihoods as a small business owner. The second ad cites research showing that 79 percent of retail workers say they are happy in the jobs, while two-thirds work full time and 85 percent have received a raise and 60 percent have been promoted.

The spots are slated to run nationwide during CBS’ broadcast of the Democratic primary debate on Saturday night.

NRF said it decided to run the ads in response to criticism leveled against retailers in ads from the United Food and Commercial Workers International union that aired during the first Democratic debate on Oct. 13.

The two UFCW-paid television spots ran during CNN’s broadcast of the first Democratic debate in October and were aimed largely at Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

The ads featured workers who said they worked for Wal-Mart and claimed the the retailer provides erratic work schedules, low wages and cuts in hours and benefits. In one ad they call out some of the names of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates and ask them for support.

Katie McBreen, vice president at the NRF, said the drive behind the new NRF ads was to portray the positive story of retail careers, told by workers, managers and owners themselves. A diverse group of workers in the NRF ads talk about the positive opportunities their retail jobs have provided.

“This is not a direct tit-for-tat with the union,” McBreen said. “We really wanted to combat their message, which is very negative and doesn’t take into account all of the pride and passion of workers in the retail industry.

“One of the things we love about this industry is that it is a true meritocracy. There aren’t many industries where you can literally start at the bottom and rise all the way to the top, whether it’s to ceo or a store owner,” she said. “It’s not like these stories are rare. They happen every day in every company. As we travel around the country, we are hearing these stories… and as the voice of industry we think it’s our role to tell them.”

McBreen said it was important to portray the significant opportunities the retail industry provides to workers, particularly during the presidential campaign and for lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“Our ability to impact policy on Capitol Hill is influenced by the perception of our industry,” she noted. “We are not going to sit by while people with a clear agenda [attack] the industry.”

McBreen would not disclose how much the NRF paid for the ads but she noted “it was an investment worth making.”

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