Victoria's Secret NY workers win fight for better pay

September 11, 2013: 8:08 AM ET
victorias secret higher wages
Debbra Alexis, 27, worked at the Herald Square Victoria's Secret store for three years when she started a campaign for higher wages and better hours.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Debbra Alexis and a group of Victoria's Secret employees won the fight for higher pay and better hours.

Alexis, who worked at the flagship Victoria's Secret store in New York City's Herald Square for three years, wanted to do something about many of the same practices that Wal-Mart and McDonald's (MCD) employees have been protesting since last November.

"We needed more pay, consistent hours and the chance to advance, and we were just really fed up," said Alexis, who was making $9.93 an hour.

Her hours were all over the place, ranging from 10 to 30 hours per week, and would change with little notice. Alexis and her coworkers were passed over for promotions, while outsiders were hired for management positions.

So in June, she and three other more-experienced Victoria's Secret workers presented their manager with a demand letter.

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The letter went without response, so the workers enlisted the help of the Retail Action Project, a group that works to improve conditions for retail workers.

They started a campaign to get other workers to sign onto a petition that they would present to management.

By mid-summer, 100 of the 700 people Alexis said work at store had signed on. Hundreds more supported an online petition on change.org.

As the campaign picked up steam, management fired back. Alexis said that workers involved in the campaign were moved to different departments, forced to work alone in the stock room and had their hours cut.

"They started treating us differently, and I got my hours cut down to seven a week, the lowest they had ever been," she said.

But the workers didn't back down. They were up to 800-plus signatures on the change.org petition by early August.

And then, one day in mid-August, the company announced that it would give across-the-board raises to all workers in the Herald Square store.

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Workers got between $1 and $2 more per hour, depending on how much time they had worked at the store. Alexis' pay rose by more than 20%, to $11.90 an hour.

The retailer, which is owned by Limited Brands (LTD), also started promoting long-time employees at the store.

"The company said the raises came as a result of this employee satisfaction survey that they gave every year, but I'd taken it many times and we'd never seen any kind of outcome from it," said Alexis. "The raises had to be because of the campaign."

Victoria's Secret did not respond to requests for comment.

Related: The real budgets of McDonald's workers

Their success comes as workers at Wal-Mart (WMT), Macy's (M) and fast food chains have yet to see a major change.

Terasia Bradford, Retail Action's lead organizer with the workers, said the Victoria's Secret campaign had been effective because the workers were asking for reasonable changes, and the demands were being made by employees who had worked at their store for a long time.

"The company saw the workers as people who were invested in the brand and so they took them seriously," she said. "Victoria's Secret is invested in its image and so it should be invested in its employees, as well."

Despite the victory, Alexis has since left Victoria's Secret for a full-time job at a nonprofit that helps people get access to health insurance. But she said she knows the changes made a difference.

"Everything worked out," she said. "People are much happier to come to work."

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