Judith Luna didn’t mince words when describing her family’s financial situation.
“Right now, we’re on survival mode. It’s not enough for basic necessities,” the 33-year-old mother of three told Progress Illinois.
Luna joined about 20 of her Sears co-workers in a protest outside the downtown State Street location Monday morning, demanding pay raises and a set, predictable schedule. According to Luna, who’s a cashier in the hardware department, half of the approximately 80 employees at the State Street Sears signed a petition a month ago making their requests clear. Store management ignored the petition and told workers they would only be dealt with individually, but those meeting requests have yet to be addressed.
To press the issue, the group traveled to the Sears corporate headquarters in Hoffman Estates after Monday’s rally, and presented human resources with the petition. Lorraine Chavez, outreach coordinator for Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC)/Fight for 15, a union that’s helping the Sears employees organize, said the petition delivery was calm and orderly.
“They (HR) said ‘thank you,” Chavez said. “We hope they’ll respond, but they’ve had many opportunities.”
In an emailed statement, the company said scheduling is based on business needs and associates' availability to work, and all associates have the ability to ensure that the availability information they provide matches when they are available to work. As for pay raises, the statement said Sears is focused on performance-based incentive opportunities for their commission-based associates, adding that the company is committed to promoting hourly-based associates. The statement goes on to say that while the company respects its associates’ rights to an open conversation about unionization, a secret ballot election would need to be held to protect any associate who doesn’t want a union.
“To the extent that any petition presented by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago/Fight for 15 requests Sears, Roebuck and Co. to recognize any organization as the collective bargaining representative of any of its associates, Sears expressly rejects such a request,” the statement continued.
According to Ald. Toni Foulkes (15th), who spoke at the rally, a union is precisely what the workers need. Foulkes said that when workers aren’t unionized, management can reduce their hours whenever they want.
“People buy cars, apartments because they can afford it. Then hours can get cut to five a week,” she said.
Foulkes said her support for the workers wasn’t a difficult one, even though Sears has strong ties to Illinois. The alderman said the workers are her constituents, and have voted for politicians they believed would stand up for them. Foulkes said Sears is a good company, but it has to keep its employees happy.
Charde Nabors, a 22 year-old cashier with two children, agreed with Foulkes. Nabors claimed she hasn’t received a raise in the two years she’s been employed at Sears, and her number of hours fluctuates weekly. Nabors said the store's general manager ignored her concerns, adding that she was similarly rebuffed by her floor manager. Nabors said she makes $9 per hour, and averages 20 hours per week.
“I’ve tried to budget, and I’m still stuck; something just won’t get paid,” she said.
Chavez said the uncertainty is keeping employees like Nabors and Luna from being able to improve their lives. Sears workers have to drop out of associate’s degree programs, Chavez said, because the unpredictable hours can’t be scheduled around. Chavez says WOCC will continue supporting the employees.
Luna said she and her co-workers are going to keep pressing their employer.
“We’re going to continue to fight until we’re heard. We’re going to go all the way,” she said.