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5,000 Macy's Staff Set To Begin Strike Wednesday

The retail workers are protesting the cost of healthcare and changes in pay structure.

Posted on June 14, 2016, at 2:06 p.m. ET

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Macy's workers and union activists hold a demonstration outside of the retailer's flagship store at Herald Square in Manhattan on June 2, 2016 in New York City.

About 5,000 Macy's workers at five New York stores, including the chain's Herald Square flagship, plan to walk off the job on Wednesday. The employees voted to authorize a strike earlier this month after their contract negotiations stalled, according to officials from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Their old contract expired May 1.

"As the largest department store in the country, the Macy's contract sets standards for retail workers throughout the industry," RWDSU President Stuart Applebaum told BuzzFeed News. "People come to New York for the Macy's experience. The brand comes from the Herald Square store, and it impacts everything Macy's does around the country, including online sales."

The Macy's employees, unionized with the RWDSU Local 1-S chapter, will walk out over the increasing cost of healthcare benefits, changes to pay structure, and new holiday work requirements, according to union officials. New policies allowing more returns from customers have reduced their pay from commissions, The New York Times reported today.

"Any discussions for calls to strike by the union are an expected and standard part of the negotiation process," Macy's said in a statement to the New York Daily News. Over the weekend, Macy's began running print advertisements for replacement workers — a move the union movement did not react kindly to.

We fixed your ad, @Macys. We stand with @RWDSU workers prepared to strike for a fair contract! #1u #Solidarity

Workers and union representatives rallied outside the Herald Square flagship last week wearing shirts that read, "Don't DISCOUNT your workers" and calling the retailer "the Grinch that wants our holidays."

The employees, who also work at stores in Midtown, Queens, the Bronx and White Plains, have said the cost of company health plans have become prohibitively high. The union said the costs have led to less than a quarter of the workforce receiving coverage.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Macy's workers and other union activists hold a demonstration outside of the retailer's flagship store at Herald Square in Manhattan on June 2, 2016 in New York City.

“Macy’s executives... need to come back to the bargaining table with a real healthcare plan that workers can actually afford," said union official Ken Bordieri in a statement.

Macy's workers last threatened to strike in 2011, but the work-stoppage was averted at the last moment. Before that, employees last struck in 1972.

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 02: Shoppers walk by a demonstration of Macy's workers and other union activists outside of the retailer's flagship store at Herald Square in Manhattan on June 2, 2016 in New York City.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.