Retailers are striking back against union-backed ads portraying the industry as plagued by low wages, a lack of benefits and erratic work hours, as the minimum wage fight heats up in the 2016 presidential race.
The National Retail Federation (NRF) will run two 30-second spots during Saturday night’s Democratic primary debate, highlighting the career opportunities in retail — the nation's largest private-sector employer — in response to United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) ads that ran during last month’s debate calling for sweeping changes in the industry.
"In the heat of political rhetoric, it is easy to forget that retail businesses and the people who work in them not only drive the nation’s economy but also bring great passion and energy to what they do,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.
“NRF refuses to allow vested political interests to undercut the millions of men and women who are proud to work in retail, and we will continue to ensure that current and future legislators on the local, state and federal levels know the true value of retail jobs,” he added.
One of NRF’s two ads features retail workers telling stories of advancing in their jobs while learning a wide variety of skills.
The other highlights several key points: 79 percent of retail workers say they are happy in their jobs, two-thirds work full-time, 85 percent have received a raise and 60 percent have been promoted.
The 1.3 million member UFCW finances Making Change At Walmart (MCAW), the group is not only responsible for the previous ads targeting retailers on wages but a fresh campaign that will kick off during Saturday night's Democratic.
On Friday, MCAW announced a fresh media and grassroots initiative called “Are You With Us?” aimed at all 2016 presidential candidates, beginning with the Democratic debate in Des Moines.
The nationwide television ad that will speak directly to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the group said.
"Real change demands that we all speak out and stand up, not on a single day, but every day,” said Jess Levin, communications director at MCAW. “It means that those who run for president, Democrat or Republican, must help lead this national effort. It’s why we’re asking every presidential candidate to speak out in support of the men and women who have earned a chance at a better life.”
The union is asking Democratic candidates to back its efforts to improve the workplace, including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, more than double the current rate.
The previous ads featured employees saying that "executives and management" treat them like they are "disposable," "worthless" and "don't matter." The union argues that workers are forced to take cuts in benefits and hours and are being pushed into part-time jobs.
In February, Making Change At Walmart took credit for Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon's announcement of a wage hike that will push up base pay to $10 an hour in 2016.
But workers continue to fight for that $15 hourly rate.
Besides strikes and protests, upward of 1,000 employees, including 100 Wal-Mart workers, are expected to fast in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving as part of the effort to push wage increases.
As for the Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) supports a $15 wage as does former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton said recently that she backs an increase to $12 an hour, in line with proposals from some Senate Democrats in Congress and above the $10.10 proposed by the White House.
All the Dem candidates have expressed backing for workers in lower-wage jobs.
Meanwhile, Shay vowed to take the lead in weighing in on the 2016 presidential race to ensure “that the true voice of retail is heard and that elected officials support policies that contribute to a vibrant, healthy and robust retail industry that benefits the U.S. economy.”
This post was updated at 5:30 p.m.