Michelle Perez

Michelle Perez

At a Portland, Oregon Toys ‘R Us, customers took car seats outside and, with Michelle Perez along, could see how they fit backseats. Perez, 29, single mother of two, lives in Washington state but knows Oregon laws cold (California, too). She is expert in details of installation (“some people over tighten”).  Legally, she could not install, just coach.  But repeat customers traveled “just to deal with me.” She earned $11.79 an hour. Last spring, the company went bankrupt and closed. Legal filings blamed Amazon, Walmart and Target. Others pointed to private equity – KKR, Bain Capital and Vornado Realty Trust – whose debt, Bloomberg News reported, ate 97 percent of the operating profit. Merchandise sold, but workers lost jobs they loved. Perez described through tears taking before and after photos of her baby department being dismantled. Then: the firms refused to pay severance. Workers organized and got a little. In February, Perez was on food stamps with three weeks remaining on unemployment. Meanwhile, she has become a voice in RiseUp Retail, not a union, but a woman-led mobilization. “I want this to turn into a big movement of protecting people who are on the front lines,” she said. “I want to change how retail employees are treated. We are the ones who make the companies who they are.”

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