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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thrift store workers join retail union

By Adam Wisnieski
Posted
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Unique Thrift Store employees have joined the retail, Wholesale and department store union.

Workers at Unique Thrift in Kingsbridge voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union on June 7. 

A day after holding a vigil outside the store on June 6, workers voted 36 to 22 in favor of joining RWDSU and according to the union, will have a bargaining unit of 64 employees. A group of workers approached the powerful union because they say they are paid low wages, receive no paid sick days, minimal vacation time and are verbally abused by managers at the store.
Unlike many other well-known thrift stores like Goodwill or Salvation Army that are non-profit charitable organizations, Unique Thrift, located at 218 W. 234th St., is a for-profit thrift store owned by Apogee Retail. The company, which owns a chain of 30 locations, buys household items donated to the Lupus Foundation, a charitable organization that raises funds to help those affected by Lupus. A portion of the sale proceeds go to support the Lupus Foundation, according to its website, though it is unclear how much.

“People think that it’s contributing to the Lupus Foundation,” said RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum. “They don’t realize it’s a business. People are making money from the business and people who work there are trying to support themselves and their families. It’s not a charity.”

Antonio Trinidad, 66, started doing maintenance at Unique more than four years ago. His wages started at $7.50 and now he makes $9.05 cleaning and hanging sheets and curtains. When interviewed, Mr. Trinidad stressed that what he wants most is respect because, he said, supervisors call him and his co-workers, “stupid immigrants” and “illiterate immigrants.”

“We need to see more dignity and respect at the job. We need a better process for raises that’s more just and fair for all,” he said through a translator.

He said he fractured his left hand at work in 2009 and missed four days of work without pay. The company sent him to a doctor who told him the fracture could not have happened at the store and he returned to work, he said.

Joanna Barrillo, a 22-year-old single mother who lives in Yonkers, said it’s impossible to take days off to care for her 5-year-old daughter when she’s sick. 

She’s worked at Unique as a clerk for a year and three months and currently makes $7.50 an hour. 

She said she hopes the union will allow her to have paid sick days and help her get a raise.

The next step for the Unique workers is to sit down with the company and negotiate a contract. Workers said they are worried about retaliation and Mr. Trinidad said recently the company froze raises and vacations to punish workers for organizing.

Apogee Retail directed The Press to Unique for a comment but a manager there declined to speak. 

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