Retailers facing the threat of a nationwide walkout at brand name chains ranging from McDonalds restaurants to Sears and Dollar Tree are fighting back with a public relations campaign meant to show that these are good jobs.
The campaign comes after a summer that featured employee walkouts at McDonald's, Victoria's Secret and Burger King. Last October, workers from Abercrombie and Fitch, Best Buy and other companies protested in front of their stores.
Retail workers have called for another nationwide walk-out on Aug. 29, inviting workers from Macy's, Sear's and Dollar Tree to join in.
In response, the National Retail Federation, a retail trade association, has launched ThisIsRetail.org, promoting jobs in department stores and other businesses as stable career options.
The site initially launched in the spring, but the campaign took a new tone after thousands of service workers walked off the job late last month in cities across the U.S., demanding more scheduled hours and $15 an hour wages.
Bill Thorne, senior vice president of communications and public affairs for the federation, said the campaign is meant to talk about the benefits of retail jobs and careers to individuals and communities.
"My focus has been on telling that story," he said. "If we don't tell that story, someone else will."
A question on the site asks: "Did you know that retail supports 42 million American jobs? Think those are all behind a cash register? Think again."
For career possibilities, the National Retail Federation's website does little to share the benefits of flipping burgers and instead touts the industry's management and ownership track, with tag lines such as, "Where you start is not where you end up at Domino's" and statistics like "90 percent of all franchise workers started as delivery drivers or pizza makers."
The website also includes a retail career road map that lead to jobs in finance, accounting and auditing; IT; retail buying; public relations and communications; and sales.
QueenAsia Moore, 22, a retail worker at shoe store DSW in New York City and a member of the Retail Action Project, said she is an example of someone who has a career in retail.
Moore, who has five years in the retail industry, is a part of the Retail Action Project's "Just Hours" campaign for more predictable and fair scheduling. The campaign works against retailers' "abusive part-time scheduling practices" which include "shrinking hours" and "unpredictable schedules that change with little notice."
"There are so many details that go in to retail work that people don't see," Moore said. "My coworkers on the sales floor are passionate about retail and fashion. Many of us are parents, aspiring designers and stylists, so retail isn't not a temporary job for us. The retail industry depends on us to make sales, but the quality of retail jobs needs to improve so we can sustain ourselves and our families."
Speaking generally, Thorne said retailers "work very hard to ensure that recruit and retain the best employees they can possibly get."
"They have a system that ensures that's exactly what happens. They're not looking for ways to penalize employees. They're looking for ways to keep them on and hopefully to build them in their jobs," Thorne said.
General merchandise stores and other retailers have been a large source of jobs added in the summer, adding 47,000 jobs in July out of the total 162,000 added that month. Employers in the industry added 352,000 jobs over the past 12 months.
While the Retail Action Project applauds job growth, it is lobbying for a "living wage" that is higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
In Washington, D.C., Wal-Mart has threated to halt its expansion plans after District of Columbia lawmakers approved the Large Retailer Accountability Act, which forces big-box store workers to be paid at least $12.50 an hour.
Thorne said the problem with the perception of retail is that it "conjures up a teenager folding sweater at a store in the mall."
"Management jobs started as the kid folding a sweater in store in the mall. What they learned was it was far more than that," he said.