SPECIAL DELIVERY: Three New York City Council members hand-delivered a letter to H&M’s New York office, demanding the company return to the negotiating table for the betterment of 1,500 unionized H&M employees.
While about 30 members and supporters of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union waited outside of the Fifth Avenue headquarters, the elected officials — Brad Lander, Keith Powers and Ritchie Torres — visited the 11th floor. Addressed to Karl-Johann Persson, chief executive officer of the H&M Group, the letter was signed by 28 New York City Council members, including Speaker Corey Johnson. Guaranteeing minimum part-time hours, longevity increases, fair scheduling and ending clopenings — the practice of having an employee close a store at night and open the same location the following morning — are among the requests workers are seeking in a new contract.
After briefing supporters about how the delivery played out, Lander said, “It seemed like they weren’t expecting us so it took a little while to get permission. We had hoped to see Laura Hammond, who is the head of U.S. h.r. They said she was not there. We wondered if she might have been one of the mannequins, standing very still on the side. There was a representative from the company who very politely took the letter and committed that it would get to the global ceo.”
Reached later Thursday afternoon, an H&M spokeswoman said the letter is being reviewed. “We continue to approach this issue openly and have been bargaining in good faith with the union and our hope is to secure an agreement with them soon that reflects our jointly shared values and fulfills our commitment to our workforce,” she said.
The bargaining for the workers’ contract, which expired three months ago, is ongoing. Power said, “We hope the letter and the action today brings them to the table to talk about all the issues that are being raised…we’re hoping that some time in the near future, they’ll reach out to the union or the elected officials to say we’ve heard you and we want to talk about the issues you’ve raised.”
Lander said, “What the workers are demanding that the company is not giving are just utterly reasonable things. If you were going to have to hold your weekends open so that you might be assigned at any time, you at least might be able to count on some minimum number of hours that you could make enough money so that you could do anything in New York City.”
He also suggested that workers shouldn’t have to deal with closing late at night and opening early in the morning. Power added, “The Swedish workers have rights that far exceed what these workers are asking for. We hope he’ll [referring to Persson] listen to us and get involved.”
Torres said, “One concern I have is that historically, H&M has had a productive working relationship with labor. But I wonder if H&M and other companies feel emboldened by the antilabor atmosphere in Washington, D.C. And that’s what might explain the change in tone.”
Informed of that speculation, the H&M spokeswoman said, “No, that is not the case. H&M’s fundamental principles are the same throughout the world. We believe in good relations and open and constructive dialogues with organizations that represent our employees. Our approach to labor relations is the same today as it has been as long as we have been in the U.S and we hope to reach an agreement soon.”
This marks the second time that union organizers and activists have targeted H&M regarding the contract negotiations. About three weeks ago, union activists, sales associates and elected officials rallied outside of H&M’s Herald Square flagship, calling for a fair new contract.
Angelmar DeJesus, an H&M employee, said he averages eight to 15 hours of scheduled work hours at the Harlem store. “It depends on the business in the store. I would like to see guaranteed hours and benefits. I’ve been in this company for four years. I’ve never gotten health insurance or anything from them. Dental and vision would be a great thing for any [part-time] employee at H&M to have,” he said.
Highlighting “eye contact and smiling” as two of H&M’s “five basic demands” of employees, DeJesus said, “It shouldn’t hurt H&M to give us dental and vision [insurance] to provide for our customer service experience. I want to feel confident when I am working for the company that I am proud to be there.”