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Unique Thrift Store Workers Blast Low Pay, Fight For Union

By Adeshina Emmanuel | November 22, 2013 9:20am
 Workers accuse management of underpaying them, and intimidation.
Unique Union Push
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UPTOWN — Workers at Unique Thrift Store in Uptown want to form a union to fight for better pay and benefits — and say management has tried to intimidate them to abandon their efforts.

Activists with Arise Chicago say that most of the 50 workers at the Unique in Uptown make minimum wage, $8.25 an hour — and some workers at the store have been there at least a decade but still only make $8.40 an hour.

The workers and their supporters hope unionizing will lead to negotiations for a contract with more favorable wages and benefits.

Ana Laura Lopez, a worker pushing for unionization, said that "Unique says the union would be bad for the company," which "really makes us think it should be good for the workers."

"The company says all unions are bad. I don't think the police, teachers and unionized firefighters believe that," she said.

Workers United, a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, is helping organize the workers.

Unique, 4445 N. Sheridan Rd., is owned by the international thrift store chain Savers. Savers spokeswoman Sara Gaugl wrote in an email that "there is no truth to the accusation being made," that management has intimidated workers seeking unionization and that "we support our employees’ right to decide."

A throng of workers and their supporters, including clergy, union organizers and activists entered the store a little after 11 a.m. on Wednesday and presented the store manager with two large paper boards covered with more than 400 signatures they said were collected from customers who support the workers.

About 15-20 people gathered around the store manager and asked for her guarantee that workers be allowed to unionize without intimidation.

The manager appeared nervous but listened to their demands.

"I observed that when we spoke to the manager and we were together as a group, she felt nervous. And a little intimidated," said Rev. Jason Coulper of the Ravenswood United Church of Christ. "Part of me felt for her, but I also understand that many times it is the managers that are intimidating the workers."

The workers are scheduled to vote on whether or not to unionize on Dec. 4. Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise, said the move is part of a larger, nationwide movement.

"Low-wage workers are speaking up and saying 'We can't survive on these wages, and we can't survive having to take a second and third part time job just to make ends meet when we really work full time," Hawking said.