Union vote at Valley Stream Target closely watched

Target workers who want a union at the Target workers who want a union at the Valley Stream store meet at UFCW Local 1500 offices in Westbury. If workers chose to unionize it would be a first for the national chain. Workers are, from left, Charmain Brown, Sonia Williams, Tashawna Green, Averil Bracey, Shamdeen Shaw and Tibsy Palmer. (June 14, 2011) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Many eyes in the retail industry and organized labor will be watching the Target store in Valley Stream Friday as workers decide whether to unionize.

If a majority of the 260 eligible workers vote "yes" to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, it would be the first store in the Target chain with unionized employees.

Such a move, retail and labor experts said, could embolden employees at some of Target's 1,754 other stores to do the same at a time of broad frustration over stagnant wages even with high unemployment.

While Target Corp. insists "this is a unique store with a unique situation," analysts say the possibility of other stores unionizing could mean added labor costs, placing Target Corp. at a disadvantage with its nonunion competitors.

"Any big retailer has got an eye looking at this," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, a Port Washington market research firm. " If this could infiltrate a suburban community, this could affect and change the industry."

As the vote has drawn near, the company and pro-union workers have been pushing their cases. Target and the union have both filed allegations of unfair labor practices, such as harassment, with the National Labor Relations Board. Previous votes to unionize Target workers elsewhere around the nation have failed.

Pro-union workers say they hope a union will help them establish minimum work hours and negotiate larger raises and affordable health care. They say they've faced harassment when attempting to legally discuss the vote with co-workers -- a charge the company denies.

"I want better benefits, more pay to pay my bills," said Tibsy Palmer, 62, a longtime Target worker who has had to apply for food stamps. "I don't like welfare, and I don't want to put myself on it."

Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman, said health-care benefits are available for employees who work 2½ days a week -- about 20 hours -- and a large majority of the workers at the Valley Stream store are eligible. The company says there has been no reduction in hours or payroll at the store and employees there average about 24 hours of work a week.

Pro-union workers insist they have seen a drastic drop in hours over the year. Other employees, however, say they see no benefits in unionizing.

"You can't have a steady 40 hours, and sales are not what they should be," said Kathy Padgett of Lawrence. "It's part of retail."

Betsy Wilson, a Far Rockaway single mother of two, agreed. "It's not some nasty environment . . . [where] we need a union to fight for things," Wilson said. "I survive, and as long as I am surviving I am happy. I am not going to get rich at Target."

Voting ends at 11:30 p.m.; results are expected shortly after.

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