Bintou Kamara, 22, a cashier at Abercrombie & Fitch, started a petition with the labor group Retail Action Project on Change.org last week to request an end to "erratic scheduling" and "abusive on-call shifts" that leave workers waiting by the phone for work that sometimes does not come.
Kamara, a full time college student, said many retail workers are required to keep their schedules open, to be available at the whim of their managers.
She said that part-time workers at her location on Fifth Avenue had to call two hours before their shifts were to begin to inquire whether they were needed at work.
"Most of the time, you have to wait and sit there," said Kamara, a member of Retail Action Project.
To support her younger sister in high school and send money to her family in Togo, Kamara said she had to get a second part-time job as a home health aide.
She said many of the workers on strike are young and in similar situations.
"They feel like we can't do anything, we can't fight back and it's a big company," she said.
Ricah Norman, a former employee of a Best Buy store in Maryland, also protested in New York City.
The 23-year-old Norman, currently a student at an online university and looking for a job, said she had to quit school because she could not support herself while working two part-time jobs.
She said she tried to request a regular schedule, but her managers could not help.
"They basically said, 'That's the way the business is.'"
Norman, also a member of Retail Action Project, said she has also tried to seek full-time employment, but many companies she has contacted are hiring only part-time employees.
"Retailers in general need to get back to the days when they scheduled people a correct amount of hours and allowed them to have a personal life while supporting families with sufficient wages and hours, instead of revolving their lives around the companies," she said.
Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Best Buy did not immediately return requests for comment.