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With the holidays fast approaching, shoppers aren’t the only ones hitting up stores. The growing threat of organized retail crime has rattled the industry, and employees are fast becoming fed up with putting their safety on the line without clear corporate directives on how to protect themselves.
More than 400 Macy’s sales associates at three of its Washington state locations went on strike on Black Friday, uniting in support of several employees who said they faced retaliation from the retailer for calling law enforcement when shoplifters struck.
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On the busiest shopping day of the year, Macy’s workers’ union, UFCW 3000, held a rally near the Southcenter Mall Macy’s. The strike was followed by a buoyant “Macy’s Striking Workers Parade,” the labor union’s answer to the retailer’s famed Macy’s Day Parade, which takes place every Thanksgiving in New York City. With giant inflatables and a performance by a Cher impersonator, hundreds of workers gathered to picket Macy’s in the presence of elected officials and community leaders.
Liisa Luick, a 15-year veteran of Macy’s Alderwood store, said workers initiated the Unfair Labor Practice Strike “because Macy’s intimidated and retaliated against me for calling security and 911 about a thief.” Additionally, she accused the retailer of bad-faith bargaining throughout workers’ efforts to negotiate a fair wage contract, along with union-busting activities like restricting employees from speaking with representatives.
“We are asking Macy’s to provide a clear and consistent policy for how we are supposed to handle safety threats, and to stop retaliating against workers for calling security when there is a threat,” Azia Domingo added. “We need increased security to better protect workers and customers in our stores.” More than 18,000 consumers pledged to take their business elsewhere while Macy’s employees were striking throughout the weekend, representing “the first major retail worker strike in decades in Washington,” she said.
As the holiday shopping season soldiers on, U.S. lawmakers are aiming to get ahead of surges in organized retail crime that put retail workers on the front lines.
California Governor Gavin Newsom is continuing his campaign to quell the shoplifting melee taking place across the state, deploying the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to ramp up its law enforcement presence within key retail districts over the coming weeks. The group’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force (ORCTF) will perform proactive and confidential operations with local departments from San Diego to San Francisco, with the goal of safeguarding shopping hubs, retail staff and consumers from flash mobs and targeted attacks.
“Leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars in law enforcement investments, the California Highway Patrol—working with allied agencies—is increasing enforcement efforts and conducting and supporting covert and confidential takedowns to stop these criminals in their tracks during the holiday season, and year-round,” Newsom said last week.
CHP commissioner Sean Duryee said officers are “cracking down and stopping unacceptable criminal activity” using the department’s extensive statewide resources. “Much of our task force’s success can be attributed to the strong working relationships we have with our law enforcement partners throughout the state and the rapport we have cultivated with the retail industry,” he said. Over the coming weeks, CHP’s ORCTF teams in Southern California, the Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, and Sacramento will be working with retailers, loss prevention officers and local law enforcement to topple known boosters and fencing enterprises.
In September, Newsom announced that $267 million would be allocated to the formation of localized organized retail crime task forces throughout California, with outfits like the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) receiving $15 million to install cameras and support sting operations. California’s 2023-2024 budget allocates over $800 million to public safety programs and strengthening the response to organized retail crime.
The San Diego Police Department (SDPD)’s Northern Division announced last week via Instagram that it had “kick-started the season with a comprehensive safety meeting” a the Westfield UTC Mall, a popular outdoor shopping center that houses brands like American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch, and H&M as well as luxury boutiques like Chanel and Hermes.
SDPD advised that shoppers can “expect to see a boosted presence of our vigilant team around the malls,” including uniformed officers on patrol as well as undercovers in plainclothes and even a Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol. Sharing some “vital tips” for the holiday shopping experience, SDPD said consumers should stay aware of their surroundings and personal belongings at all times, try to shop during daylight hours with others instead of alone, and park in well-lit areas.
California’s cities are far from the only targets of organized retail crime, and lawmakers across the country are taking a varied approach to addressing the problem. Governor Kathy Hochul is feeling the heat from the retail community after striking down legislation that would establish the New York State Organized Retail Crime Task Force earlier this month. Hochul vetoed Assembly Bill A6568B, saying it would cost the state $35 million that was not in its budget.
Melissa O’Connor, president and CEO of the Retail Council of New York State, said local retailers were “extremely disappointed” by the outcome, having lost $4.4 billion to retail theft in 2022 alone. “I spoke with Governor Hochul at length to discuss the need for immediate action and an effective, collaborative response to this problem,” she said. “Addressing this complicated issue requires interagency coordination and consistent communication among all stakeholders, including the retail industry,” which she said represents “the largest private sector employer in the economy.”
In the absence of a concerted statewide effort to combat retail crime, Mayor Eric Adams launched a task force to take on retail theft in New York City. Supported by elected officials including New York Attorney General Letitia James and all five city district attorneys, along with representatives from law enforcement and local business groups, national retailers and organized labor, the task force will be led the Office of Public Safety, the New York City Police Department (NYPD), the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) and the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS).
Last year, Adams commissioned a retail theft report with insights from retailers and local law enforcement that showed that retail crime had increased by a whopping 77 percent across the city’s five boroughs over the course of five years. “New York City’s retailers are the heart and soul of our city, and retail theft hurts everyone, from our mom-and-pop shops to large department stores—and especially consumers,” he said on Nov. 8. “I am proud to convene this group of experts and practitioners as we continue to take a 360-degree approach to combatting retail theft and curbing this serious issue that plagues cities across the country.”
“Our unified efforts to combat retail theft in New York City certainly require the continued, unwavering commitment of every single stakeholder,” NYPD Commissioner Edward A. Caban added. “By launching this task force, we are confronting head-on the genesis of this persistent and very costly issue and developing collaborative responses to prevent it from enduring.”
“The NYPD and our law enforcement partners are highly optimistic that by working together with our many partners in the community, the tide will soon turn on this widespread concern,” Caban said.