All six of the Lush employees whose ballots were counted in the election voted in favor of unionizing with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 227. They started organizing after the company did not increase pay for U.S. employees this year, despite rising inflation rates.
Aurora Schultz, a sales ambassador at the Lush shop at Oxmoor Mall, said she and her colleagues decided to seek union representation to fight for a living wage. She currently earns just over $13 an hour.
“I’m hoping [the union] makes it a better place to work, and makes people want to stay longer than working seasonal,” Schultz said, adding that her store’s union win could empower other Lush shops to follow suit. “It’s about treating your workers properly.”
Elisa Torres, Lush’s North America chief operating officer, said the company will engage with the newly-elected union “in a spirit of good faith and openness.”
Lush, a British cosmetics retailer known for its bath bombs and other handmade products, has a history of backing progressive causes, including working with companies that support unions. But the company has been accused of anti-union activity by its North America employees – in Toronto, and now in Louisville.
‘They just wanted me to go in silence’
Chelsea Cook, a floor leader at the newly-unionized Louisville shop, said she is considering pressing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. She claims Lush unexpectedly forced her to stop working on Sunday – just days before the union vote.
On Saturday, Cook gave her shop managers notice that she would be leaving Lush on May 12 due to health issues, according to an email shared with LPM News. But the next day, at a staff product launch meeting, she said a regional manager named Sasha Chiglo told her to leave her job immediately.
“It was clear they just wanted me to go in silence,” Cook said, alleging the forced early departure was retaliation for union organizing. “She took my [store] keys and walked me out of the mall.”
Cook said Chiglo told her she would keep getting paid until her May 12 end date, but that she could not keep working at the shop. An email reviewed by LPM News shows Chiglo sent a message to Cook’s personal email account on the morning of the union vote, requesting her routing number to initiate a wire transfer for her “last pay” – rather than keep her on the company’s payroll.
Cook said she ignored the email.
“If I had accepted the money, then I wouldn’t have had the right to be on payroll anymore, and I wouldn’t have been eligible to vote,” Cook said.
Cook still voted in the election, following advice from UFCW Local 227 organizer Caitlin Blair, according to text messages reviewed by LPM News. But the company challenged her ballot, so it was not counted. Hers would have been a seventh vote in the union’s favor.
Lush denies Cook’s allegation of retaliation for union organizing. Torres, the company executive, said Cook “voluntarily resigned her employment with Lush and her departure from the company was amicable.”
Lush’s lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Cook’s allegation comes at odds with the company’s publicly-stated commitment to supporting labor organizing.
“No one should be, or would be, stopped from working at Lush because they want to belong to a union,” reads a statement on the company’s website.
An effort for competitive wages
In February, Lush notified U.S. employees that they wouldn’t get raises this year. That’s the moment union organizing began at the Louisville store.
They received a video from the company – which was leaked on Reddit and reviewed by LPM News – in which three higher-ups justified the decision to refrain from raising wages, citing dwindling sales in North America.
“Until we’ve invested properly to get that business growing back and being able to sustain a living wage, it would almost be irresponsible to keep paying the wages,” Lush finance director Kim Coles said in the video. “We need to be investing in the sales.”
The announcement came after years of the company promoting its commitment to paying staff a living wage. Lush increased pay for employees in the United Kingdom this month, in line with cost of living estimates.
Cook was working when she got the video. She and Schultz both said it was demoralizing.
“I watched a minute of it and I had to turn it off, or else I wouldn’t have been able to finish my shift and do my job,” Cook said.
Workers reached out to UFCW Local 227 for union representation the following week.
A ‘continuing trend’ at Louisville retailers
The union win at Lush comes on the heels of several successful union campaigns at other retailers in Louisville, including Trader Joe’s and Heine Brothers’ Coffee.
“There’s definitely been an uptick, and it’s a reflection of the solidarity the Louisville labor community has with each other, that we’re able to celebrate everybody’s wins,” Blair, of UFCW, said.
Ariana Levinson, a labor law professor at the University of Louisville, said the Lush union win is significant because it illustrates a “continuing trend” in organizing at retail stores in Louisville and throughout the country. Now, she said, unionized workplaces need to translate their wins into contracts.
Heine Brothers’ announced last month that workers ratified a contract. But other recently-unionized retail outlets in Louisville have yet to secure one.
“Collective bargaining is the next step,” Levinson said. “It needs to be that you don’t just win the right to organize, win the union election – but you’re able to win the first contract.”