NEW YORK — A contingent of about 50 unionized retail workers and union organizers showed up outside Brooks Bros. flagship on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue Tuesday afternoon to protest the slow pace of contract renewal negotiations.
The contract for the approximately 400 Brooks Bros. retail employees at its 10 units in the metropolitan area expired on May 1 and was extended three times, but the union allowed the third extension to expire Friday, letting it take more aggressive negotiating actions, explained Fred Kaplan, manager of UNITE Local 340.
“We’re trying to get a more equitable commission system [for the sales force],” he said. He explained that the current minimum sales quotas that must be met for employees to earn commissions were set during the economic boom of the late Nineties.
“With the falloff in sales over the past few years, the threshold levels are not realistic,” he said.
The union also is seeking raises for the 100 or so noncommissioned workers covered by the contract. Kaplan claimed that Brooks Bros.’ management offered raises for current employees in exchange for salary cuts for future hires, a position that he said UNITE could not accept.
“They’re trying to get us to agree to severe cuts for people who have not yet been hired,” he said.
In a statement, Brooks Bros. management said, “We are confident that Brooks Bros. and UNITE will reach an agreement that will be advantageous for the company and its employees.”
The company also pointed out that it “has been a major supporter” of UNITE’s Made In New York campaign, which has promoted keeping fashion jobs in the city. Brooks Bros. did not comment on the details of the contract dispute.
The crowd of shouting protesters who handed leaflets to passersby on the busy Midtown sidewalk included one demonstrator dressed as a sheep, wearing a sign that said “Don’t Fleece Us.”
Demonstrators said they’d be back each day until the contract is signed.