Wednesday 7 December 2016

Union challenge to Penneys' US store withdrawn

Boston union says high staff turnover and anti-union practices are hindering its case

Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30

Charges filed earlier this year in a United States labour court against Primark/Penneys by a Boston workers' union have now been withdrawn Photo: Getty Images/Ingram Publishing
Charges filed earlier this year in a United States labour court against Primark/Penneys by a Boston workers' union have now been withdrawn Photo: Getty Images/Ingram Publishing

Charges filed earlier this year in a United States labour court against Primark/Penneys, the clothing giant with its headquarters in Ireland, have been withdrawn amid difficulty in securing enough staff support.

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Two separate charges filed by a Boston workers' union with the US National Labor Relations Bureau in October - alleging unfair hiring tactics, coercive behaviour and the changing of employment conditions by Primark at its new US store - have now been withdrawn.

The workers' union in Boston - where Primark's first store outside of Europe is located - said high staff turnover and alleged anti-union practices at the retailer were undermining its support from workers. The union intends to refile charges after it gathers more findings, an organiser told the Sunday Independent.

The union has been critical of Primark since it opened its first US store three months ago, claiming that the company discourages employees from unionising and in some cases has let employees go for supporting the union.

"We withdrew the case in order to be able to refile as we gather more findings" a spokesman for Boston's United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1145 said.

"We did not want the board to dismiss our case. Turnover is a huge problem but we continue to educate the new workforce coming in and continue to sign more workers on union authorisation cards."

"The turnover rate has been an obstacle toward unionising as many have left Primark to find better employment," said union president Jeff Bollen.

"Minimum wage in Massachusetts is $9 per hour going to $10 (€9.20) as of January 1. Non-union retail workers receive little to no benefits, be they full- or part-time workers. To date, only a couple of termed workers have come forward to testify at the National Labor Relations Board."

(The National Labor Relations Board is the US government agency that handles cases of unfair work practices.)

"The total support of employees becomes a moving target with the turnover rate being so high."

Alleged anti-union practices at Primark are also hurting efforts to unionise, said Mr Bollen.

"Management is telling new employees not to talk with us or sign cards and signing new employees up is becoming more difficult.

"We continue to meet with the workers' committee at their homes to grow support and combat the company's aggressive anti-union campaign.

"It is clear that Primark has no intention of allowing employees to peacefully unionise. Primark continues to refuse to meet with the union despite requests. We will push on to organise the employees, no matter how long it takes."

A Penneys spokesman responded, saying: "The union's allegations have been presented to the National Labor Relations Board on two occasions.

"On both occasions, these allegations were fully vetted by the board and proven baseless, resulting in the union having to withdraw these claims.

"Primark has always supported the rights of its employees across all countries where it trades, whether or not an employee is a union member.

"Accordingly, the facts do not support the union's allegations."

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