Last summer, employees at the Target store in Valley Stream, New York came together to organize a union to address a number of issues they were facing, in particular the startling reality that “many of them earned too little to support a family or afford health insurance, forcing some to rely on food stamps and Medicaid for their children.” The Valley Stream store would have been the first Target in the country to unionize.
For years, Target has enjoyed a reputation as the antithesis of Walmart. But like its big box counterpart, Target is notoriously anti-union — the company reportedly shows new hires a video warning against unionizing, threatening them with fewer promotions and less flexible hours if they were to organize.
When the workers in Valley Stream came forward with the idea of organizing under United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1500, Target ramped up its efforts to stifle the movement. Ultimately, the workers’ vote to unionize failed, due in large part to intimidation tactics employed by the company to strong-arm them into caving. In fact, Target is currently under investigation by the National Labor Relations Board for illegally interrogating and threatening Valley Stream employees.
Yet, Target’s campaign against the workers in Valley Stream presses forward. Last week, company management informed employees at the Valley Stream location that the store will be temporarily closed for six-months for renovations. Employees feel the move is in retaliation for their attempts to unionize; while the Valley Stream location is one of 1,100 other stores currently undergoing renovations, the majority of those locations are slated to remain open throughout.
And while “eligible employees” have been invited to transfer to other Target branches or take an unpaid leave of absence until renovations have been completed, “the most vocal pro-union employees have not been deemed eligible to return:”
Sonia Williams, one of the most active pro-union employees who has frequently spoken to the media, including The Huffington Post, found out last week that she wasn’t eligible to transfer or apply for unpaid leave, she said. She was offered, however, a severance package for her nearly 10 years of work that amounts, after taxes, to about $800, Williams said.
Management told her she was “on final warning,” but did not explain why, Williams said, noting that she had received no prior written or oral notice. Management had met with her once previously about one matter but her manager told her it had been resolved, she said.
UFCW Local 1500 is seeking to block the closure and possibly overturn the results of last year’s election with the aim of conducting a new vote. “This is just as horrible as it gets,” said Pat Purcell, assistant to the president of Local 1500. “It’s right out of the Walmart playbook. That store is being closed in retaliation for union activities of workers.” A Target spokeswoman, on the other hand, maintains that the plans for remodeling have been in the works for “a year and a half or two,” conveniently predating the union’s campaign.