Byline: Arthur Friedman

NEW YORK — While it continues to suffer job losses in the manufacturing sector, UNITE has been scoring some victories in the retail industry.
Last week, 635 workers at a Marshall’s distribution center in Bridgewater, Va., ratified a first-ever union contract. The majority of Marshall’s workers there voted to unionize on July 18, and the off-price retailer, a division of TJX Cos., agreed to recognize the union.
“This is an excellent package, which goes far beyond established trends, not only in economic terms, but also in meeting the needs of the workers, many of whom are working mothers,” said Bruce Raynor, executive vice president and Southern regional director of UNITE, formed in 1995 as a merger of the ILGWU and ACTWU.
For example, in addition to a wage increase and improved benefits, the three-year contract includes an extra personal day and an extra half-day holiday, as well as a provision that workers can use a part of their time off in hour increments, Raynor noted. Workers now have four personal days, six sick days, 10 paid holidays, 12 no-fault attendance days and four weeks vacation after 10 years of service.
“This company has been very successful and has shown excellent earnings,” Raynor said. “Unlike many other companies, Marshall’s has chosen to share their success with their employees through collective bargaining.”
In the six months ended July 26, TJX reported income from continuing operations soared 78.1 percent to $101 million from $56.7 million. Sales were up 7.9 percent to $3.3 billion from $3.02 billion.
The key provisions of the contract include:
A 7 to 10 percent increase in the base wage, with increases of 45 to 80 cents per hour each year.
An improved insurance program, with a $15 co-payment for doctors’ visits and significantly lower premiums for workers, including a guarantee that insurance costs won’t rise during the life of the contract.
A prescription discount drug card.
A pension program that covers time worked before the union.
UNITE estimates the new contract will infuse $6.1 million in increased wages and benefits into the local economy in the next three years.
UNITE now represents about 4,500 workers at TJX Distribution Centers, which includes shipping and warehouse facilities for Marshall’s and TJ Maxx stores. In addition to the Virginia location, there are a Marshall’s distribution center in Atlanta, and TJ Maxx facilities in Evansville, Ind.; Worcester, Mass.; Charlotte, N.C., and Las Vegas.
Earlier this month, UNITE settled its contract dispute with Kmart Corp., as 1,600 workers at the chain’s four soft goods distribution centers ratified a new three-year collective bargaining agreement.
The agreement includes an average wage increase of 14.7 percent over three years, or about 5 percent per year, with the lowest-paid workers receiving the highest percentage increases. The pact also features limits on the use of temporary employees, a prescription drug card and a new dental plan.
UNITE and Kmart had been in negotiations since mid-May. When the contract expired on June 30, UNITE staged rallies at Kmart stores across the country. The union claimed the unionized soft goods distribution center workers were making substantially lower wages than Kmart’s hard goods center workers.
“Although the parties had enormous differences at the beginning of these negotiations, we were able to come together and reach a settlement without ever having to resort to a strike,” said Raynor.
A spokeswoman for Kmart confirmed the details of the agreement and said, “We’re pleased that the negotiations are complete and the contract has been ratified.”
The soft goods distribution centers are in Atlanta; North Bergen, N.J.; Groveport, Ohio, and Carson, Calif.