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Workers at Target store hold union vote

Target may be known for its cheap-chic apparel, but workers at one New York store say the company is just plain cheap.

About 250 workers at a Target store in Long Island planned to vote late Friday night on whether to join the country's largest retail union. This is the first union vote Target has faced in two decades and if workers vote "yes," the store will be the first of the company's 1,700 locations to bring in organized labor.

The vote could have a ripple effect in the U.S. retail industry as the economy recovers from the worst recession since the 1930s. At a time when jobs are scarce, the retail industry is expected to be one of the strongest sectors for job growth during this decade. But the hours and pay for jobs selling clothes, computers and other goods have been declining in recent years. At the same time, the industry has faced decreasing union membership, which can limit workers' ability to fight for better wages.

Chris Tilly, who directs the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, says a win for the union -- however unlikely -- would be significant.

"It would not be the end of the story," he says. "They're testing the waters."

Since two dozen workers from the store in Valley Stream approached the union with their grievances regarding hours and pay in February, Target employees from around the country have been reaching out to the labor organization, according to Patrick Purcell, spokesman for the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1500.

"We're looking at the beginning of a national movement in Target stores," he says. "This is just the first step."

Target has been taking steps of its own. The Minneapolis-based retailer has representatives going door to door in Valley Stream, distributing fliers to educate workers on the downside of unionization and is calling meetings with workers to answer questions. In a handout addressing whether the company would shut down the Valley Stream store if workers unionize, Target said: "There are no guarantees."

Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said the retailer seeks to create a workplace in which employees don't need union representation.

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