Retail Realities: Employee Expectations Have Changed

Employers need to look beyond compensation as union organizing campaigns focus on employee well-being

Washington, DC – The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and IRI Consultants released the Spring 2023 Labor Activity in Retail Report which examines trends in union organizing and provides insights to retailers on ways to meet the evolving needs of a modern retail workforce.

The report shows retailers are seeing an increase in union organizing attempts, particularly with younger workers who are demanding and expecting more from employers. This wave of union organizing attempts is unlikely to subside anytime soon.

“Traditional campaign messaging has shifted to include far broader demands than wages and working conditions. Add to that the rise of ‘Independent Unions’  and preparing for an organizing attempt will now become a necessity for retailers in 2023,” said Bob Long, CEO, IRI Consultants. 

Labor organizing stats from 2022:

  • The last 12 months brought the retail industry a 65% year-over-year increase in the number of representation petitions filed. Retailers faced a number of heighted concerns around employee pickets and protests, as well as an increased number of independent, employee-led organizing drives.
  • More than half of all the RC petitions filed in in 2022 were in just six states –Oregon, California, Illinois, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts. These same six states accounted for 72 percent of petitions filed in 2021.
  • According to the Department of Labor Statistics’ Union Members 2022 report, union membership rates increased in 22 states and the District of Columbia

For retailers who hope to maintain a direct and positive relationship with their workforce, it’s time to break the conventional mold. 

“Leading retailers can position their companies to meet the moment and exceed the expectations of the next generation of retail talent,” said Evan Armstrong, RILA vice president, workforce. “To do so, retailers need to move beyond a traditional model centered solely on compensation and benefits, to one that includes a focus on employee well-being and work-life balance.   Engagement and communication around shared values, and comprehensive policies that augment compensation are essential to any strategic approach to support the workforce.”

Retailers face an uphill battle keeping their workforce engaged and efficient, but these challenges are conquerable. What’s required is new approaches and continuous dedication to strengthening associate engagement. These subjects are explored further in the five articles included in the report by workforce experts:

  • How To Quiet Five Common Retail and QSR Jitters – IRI Consultants
  • Contemporary Approaches to Connecting With Younger Retail Workers – Ulta Beauty, Inc.
  • Retailers Control Their Destiny With Workers by Focusing on Well-being, Community Engagement, and Communication – RILA
  • Addressing Workplace Violence Liabilities in Retail – Seyfarth Shaw LLP
  • State and Local Legislators Are the ‘Tail Wagging the Dog’ When It Comes to Federal Employment Litigation Impacting Retailers – Cozen O’Connor

Access the full report here.


RILA is the US trade association for leading retailers. We convene decision-makers, advocate for the industry, and promote operational excellence and innovation. Our aim is to elevate a dynamic industry by transforming the environment in which retailers operate.

RILA members include more than 200 retailers, product manufacturers, and service suppliers, which together account for more than $2.7 trillion in annual sales, millions of American jobs, and hundreds of thousands of stores, manufacturing facilities, and distribution centers domestically and abroad.

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