Union leader blasts NYC mayor, Macy's for moving ahead with fireworks show

Most of the chain's 125,000 employees are furloughed.

April 23, 2020, 2:04 PM

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he allowed Macy's Fourth of July celebration to go forward to help raise people's spirits while enduring the novel coronavirus, but that decision set off major fireworks from the department store's union and other local leaders.

The mayor said on Wednesday that he and Macy's agreed to continue the store's annual fireworks show off the waters of Manhattan. Precise details, including whether spectators will be allowed, are still being determined, de Blasio said at a Thursday press briefing.

"The absence of that celebration would be very damning, would be very troubling. It would hurt the morale of New Yorkers that are fighting this fight," he said. The fireworks show, which has included live musical performances, has been held annually since 1976.

Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents 6,000 Macy's employees, called out the mayor and company for planning the show while most of store's 125,000 employees have been furloughed since locations were closed in March. The show typically costs about $6 million, and Applebaum said it's nothing more than "a nationally televised commercial for themselves."

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail Workers Department Store Union speaks at a rally in New York, March 9, 2016.
LightRocket via Getty Images, FILE

"If they really cared about New Yorkers, they would be spending that money on health care coverage for the hard-working employees that made them successful for decades," he said in a statement.

Macy's didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from ABC News.

People watch the Macy's 4th of July fireworks show from the Queens borough of New York on July 4, 2017.
AFP via Getty Images, FILE

De Blasio responded to Applebaum's criticism during his briefing and commended the union leader's backing of employees, adding that the cost of a "more modest display" is small.

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"I don't think it's an either-or. Macy's put aside the resources to provide this celebration -- they are committed to doing it for New York City. I respect them for it," he said.

De Blasio said plans for the event could change if the pandemic worsens, adding that the federal government needs to do more for working-class New Yorkers.

"Clearly, the companies have to step up, but the federal government has to step up too," he said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a food pantry organized by The Campaign Against Hunger in the Brooklyn borough of New York, April 14, 2020.
Scott Heins/Getty Images, FILE

Several City Council members sided with Applebaum on Twitter in criticizing Macy's.

"Today's winner for egregiously misplaced corporate priorities: Macy's wants to spend millions on fireworks while laying off their workers and failing even to pay for their healthcare. Spare us the fanfare patriotism until you do right by your workers," Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander tweeted.

People walk by the Macy's store in New York that is closed due to the coronavirus on March 24, 2020.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images, FILE

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said Wednesday he had not seen the full details about the fireworks, but he reiterated that any reopening of the city should be done strategically.

"We need to remain safe, we need to be guided by public health professionals and we don't want to do something that will cause a secondary spike," he said during a news conference.

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