In May, more than 30,000 Toys ‘R’ Us workers were laid off — without severance — as the company started the process to shut down all its stores. Meanwhile, CEO David Brandon received $2.8 million in the form of a retention bonus right before the company filed for bankruptcy.

“This corporate greed is hurting me and my family — and it’s unacceptable,” wrote Colleen Kleven, a Toys ‘R’ Us worker in the Bay Area, as part of a petition she started demanding that the private-equity firms that used to own the company start a severance fund for the laid-off workers. 

Earlier this month, private-equity firms Bain Capital and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts announced each would contribute $10 million to a “financial assistance fund.” The firms encouraged others to also put money toward the fund.

Experts said the move, which could have broader implications when other major retailers go under, is an organizing success.

“We’re only talking about this because [the workers], like the Parkland kids, protested,” Eileen Appelbaum, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told the Huffington Post.

It’s not just Toys ‘R’ Us workers: Working in an industry that’s increasingly under threat by changing consumer habits and technology, retail employees across the world are fighting for better wages and working conditions — most of them without unions.

Retail, fast-food, and hospitality workers have teamed up to speak out against unpredictable scheduling that they say wreaks havoc on their lives. They have won “fair workweek” bills that regulate scheduling in cities like New York, Seattle and San Francisco — and are currently fighting for one in Philadelphia.

Workers from Walmart — the biggest private-sector employer in the country — have organized, protested, and gone on strike as part of “OUR Walmart.” It’s not a union though it was founded by one: United Food and Commercial Workers. Walmart subsequently expanded paid family leave and increased starting pay.

Thousands of Amazon workers in Europe were on strike on Black Friday, protesting wages and working conditions.

The Awood Center, a nonprofit group that represents Somali workers, plans to stage a protest at Amazon’s Shakopee fulfillment center in December. Already, Amazon has sat down with an employee group to talk about issues.


Reyes writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer