Workers atÂ Dylanâ€™s Candy BarÂ in Manhattan, the flagship location of a small chain of boutique candy stores opened by Dylan Lauren (daughter of fashion designer Ralph Lauren), are going public with their efforts to challenge low pay and erratic, part-time work schedules. Their claim: A store that serves as a â€śrequired stopâ€ť for celebrities and entertainers such as â€śMary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Katie Holmes, Janet Jackson, and Madonna,â€ť with annual revenues around $25 million, isnâ€™t all that interested in meeting with its workers to discuss their concerns.
After rebuff, a public petition
The workers have posted aÂ public petitionÂ to build awareness and support:
Most of us started at less than $10/hour, with some of us even making as low as $8.50. Weâ€™re supposed to get annual reviews for raises, but they often forget to give us those.
On top of the low wages, our schedules and hours change week to week. Nearly the entire sales staff is part time, yet they expect us to have open availability, making it nearly impossible for us to juggle other obligations such as second jobs, school, and family. They refuse to give us any guarantee of the amount of hours we will work each week, and yet they get angry with us when we look for a second job.
. . . Unfortunately, when we got together to deliver our own petition to management, they shrugged it off. Ignoring our concerns, they simply told us that any issues regarding compensation could only be addressed in one-on-one meetings with managers and not together as a group.
The companyâ€™s willingness to meet only in one-to-one meetings is telling: It speaks of a divide-and-conquer (or perhaps divide-and-intimidate) approach, one that also makes it harder for workers to claim the protections of federal labor laws. These laws extend to employees engaged in â€śconcerted activities for mutual aid and protectionâ€ť but do not apply to employees acting solely as individuals.
The workers have reached out to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). This is the latest evidence of an emerging movement coming from members of Americaâ€™s low-paid retail workforce, and it couldnâ€™t come at a more important time.
Maybe Dylanâ€™s unpaid HR intern can lend insights
It appears that Dylanâ€™s employee relations philosophies apply to its interns as well. Earlier this year, Dylanâ€™s posted a long announcementÂ seeking an unpaid intern for its human resources department:
We are looking for a Human Resources Intern to join our team. The right candidate will be exposed to a dynamic and exciting opportunity for learning and growing in all disciplines in the Human Resources body of knowledge.
. . . Compensation: This is an unpaid internship, MetroCard will be provided
Among the minimum requirements was this ironic nugget: â€śKnowledge of the US labor regulatory environment and reporting requirements related to Human Resources.â€ťÂ Of course, an intern with such knowledge might rightly comprehend that the unpaid internship, with its long list of anticipated duties, probably violates minimum wage laws, as thisÂ U.S. Department of Labor fact sheetÂ suggests. (AÂ New York federal district courtâ€™s June decisionÂ on a lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures provides further illumination on that point.)
Hmm, even with the huge, generous perk of a MetroCard, if I was the intern, Iâ€™d be giving serious consideration to joining the rest of the workers in circulating the petition.
This article was originally printed on Minding the Workplace on September 16, 2013. Â Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: David YamadaÂ isÂ a tenured Professor of Law and Director of theÂ New Workplace InstituteÂ at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.Â He is an internationally recognized authority on the legal aspects of workplace bullying, and he is author of model anti-bullying legislation â€” dubbed the Healthy Workplace Bill â€” that has become the templateÂ forÂ law reform effortsÂ across the country.Â In addition to teaching at Suffolk, he holds numerous leadership positions in non-profit and policy advocacy organizations.