The union seeking to represent more than 100 cosmetics staffers set to be cut from Saks Fifth Avenue’s New York flagship at the end of the month asked the National Labor Relations Board to halt the layoffs Tuesday and charged the employees had been targeted because they expressed interest in unionizing.

This story first appeared in the January 6, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

On Dec. 14, Saks told 115 beauty workers they would be terminated effective Jan. 31 to make way for its new system, in which vendors will staff their own counters. The non-vendor-employed workers make up about 30 percent of the more than 400 employees on the Manhattan unit’s beauty staff, according to the company.

In an unfair labor practices charge filed with the NLRB’s New York office, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union Local 1102 alleged the pending layoffs are a response to its Dec. 1 petition to represent the Saks-employed workers.

“Saks’ announcement was, in fact, a threat to employees at the store, which restrained, coerced, interfered and intimidated employees and intended to dissuade employees, including employees in other departments, from seeking union representation,” a union attorney wrote in a document related to the NLRB charge.

The federal agency will investigate to determine if the case merits a formal complaint.

Saks said Tuesday the new selling model and related staff cuts were business decisions unrelated to the union, that the charges were without merit and that the union had made misstatements.

“We provided ample documentation to the union’s counsel which clearly demonstrated that the decision to convert our New York City flagship store cosmetics and fragrance department to a fully vendor-staffed model was made months ago, and implementation of the decision was well under way long before Saks became aware of any union activity,” said Saks Inc. spokeswoman Julia Bentley.

The company said it told workers at the New York store in June 2009 it was evaluating the business model at the flagship as it made changes to its beauty departments in stores outside the city.

In its charge, the union called Saks’ vendor employment plan a “fiction” and said the company will “continue to control significant aspects” of beauty workers’ employment.

The union is seeking an injunction stopping the dismissal of the beauty workers pending the charge and an order requiring Saks to bargain with the union.

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