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Macy’s workers in SF are striking two days before Christmas. How did it get to this?

Those looking to get their last-minute holiday shopping done at the Macy’s store in Union Square on Friday were met with quite the welcoming at nearly every entrance. 

“Shame on you!” picketing Macy’s workers shouted at customers as they awkwardly crossed the line to enter the store. “Shame, shame, shame,” they chanted. “We’re asking you to please not shop at Macy’s.” 

On Friday, nearly 400 full-time retail employees—which include salespeople, cashiers and customer service representatives—all walked out of their jobs to strike, letting their employer, Macy’s, know that after years of layoffs and benefit cuts, they have had enough. 

At the store’s Geary Street entrance facing Union Square’s ice skating rink and enormous holiday tree, a large inflatable rat sat on the sidewalk as a symbol of perceived corporate greed.

Macy's workers picket outside of the store's Union Square entrance on Dec. 23, 2022. | Kevin V. Nguyen/The Standard.

Inside, the store continued to run largely as before, staffed primarily by seasonal and part-time employees. Workers employed by third-party vendors that rent space inside of Macy’s also did not participate in the strike. 

A last-minute offer by the company to avert the strike late Thursday night was also overwhelmingly seen as insufficient and rejected. 

Union Square Macy’s workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 union (UFCW5), which said that striking on the two days before Christmas was a deliberate strategy to hit San Francisco’s most famous department store where it would hurt most—the bottom line. 

“Only by cutting off their cash flow will we get them to take us seriously,” said John Nunes, UFCW5 president, who has over 30 years of labor negotiation experience. “This is one of the cheapest companies I have ever bargained with.”

The union alleged that Macy’s latest offer includes eliminating seniority positions and full-time work guarantees, and that the company offered a raise of less than a dollar a year over the next three years.

Clothes left unattended in the men's section of Macy's on the first day of the UFCW5 strike on Dec. 23, 2022 | Astrid Kane/The Standard.

“What [Macy’s] is offering is pathetic,” said Claudette Jaime, who has worked in the intimate apparel department at the Union Square store for 23 years. “[Macy’s] rationale is that they’ve been struggling [since the pandemic], but that’s because we are overworked and understaffed. It’s not fair to the customers, either.”

A few steps away, her younger colleague in the cosmetics department, Megan Amezcua, agreed. 

“My only job responsibility should be to focus on sales,” Amezcua said. “But now, I have to help with stocking, cleaning and all of this extra work that I’m not being paid any extra for.” 

The 25-year-old also said that despite working full-time at the store for over four years, she still can’t even take advantage of the company’s health-care benefits because of the high out-of-pocket costs. Instead, she opted for Covered California, which is subsidized by the state.  

Asked to respond to these allegations, Macy’s only said through a spokesperson: “Our top priority is to ensure the safety of our colleagues and customers. Our store remains open.” 

An overhead view of the jewelry department at Macy's on Dec. 23, 2022 | Kevin V. Nguyen/The Standard. | Source: Kevin V. Nguyen/The Standard.

UFCW5 and Macy’s have been bargaining since June 2019 before agreeing to a brief extension of their existing contract in May. The impasse reached boiling point in November when the union alleged that Macy’s negotiating party abruptly left the bargaining table.

Macy’s did not confirm or deny that incident. 

“The tragedy of all of this is that [Macy’s] is a Fortune 200 company,” Nunes said. “They have the ability to take care of their workers.” 

In Macy’s third-quarter annual report, the company said it was operating “from a position of strong financial health—with appropriate levels of inventory, a strong balance sheet with ample liquidity, investment grade credit metrics and fixed interest rate debt in a rising interest rate environment.” 

According to their published balance sheet, net sales were down 3.9% compared with the same time last year, but up 1.1% versus the same quarter in 2019. 

Full-time employees told The Standard that in response to the strike, that their part-time colleagues are being scheduled in 3- or 4-hour shifts, so that they can be more repeatedly used throughout the busy season. 

A protest sign outside of the Union Square entrance of Macy's on Dec. 23, 2022 | Astrid Kane/The Standard.

In 2019, UFCW members also voted to strike on Black Friday, but the protest never materialized when the day came. This time, Nunes says, the circumstances are different. 

“The workers here have gritted their teeth through worse and worse circumstances],” he said. “From Covid to unruly customers, and now record inflation, how much more can they take? 

“I think this time, the customers are much more empathetic, since they can all relate to what the workers are going through,” he added. 

Stacy Martinez has only worked at the Chanel counter at Macy’s for seven months but said she already felt empowered to stand with her colleagues. Friday morning was the first time she had ever picketed at any of her retail jobs. 

“A lot of people say that this store is sort of like one big family,” Martinez said. “And we really are. But right now, we see each other really struggling. We just want Macy’s to understand that it’s not personal—it’s just business, like they say.” 

Claudette Jaime, a longtime Macy's employee, speaks with The Standard on Dec. 23, 2022. | Astrid Kane/The Standard.

Jaime, on the other hand, worries that the store she first started working for in 1999 is losing what once made it great. 

“People come to Macy’s not just because we’re cashiers, but because we actually [provide] service to the customers,” Jaime said. “Now, when we’re doing three jobs practically for one person, that’s a deterrent for sales, too.” 

Kevin V. Nguyen can be reached at