Macy's strike apparently avoided

Last Updated Jun 16, 2016 5:36 AM EDT

NEW YORK -- Contract negotiations between Macy's (M) and the union representing workers at the company's flagship store in New York City continued early Thursday in an effort to reach a deal and avoid a strike -- and the effort seems to have paid off.

The union involved posted word on its Facebook page at about 5:00 a.m. Thursday, saying, "THE NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE HAS APPROVED A TENTATIVE AGREEMENT!! Everyone should report for their regular shifts."

The union had said workers wouldn't walk out Thursday morning, but if no agreement had been reached, a strike was possible later in the day. The old contract expired at midnight Wednesday.

Stuart Applebaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents the 5,000 workers including the 3,500 from the store, said key issues that still needed to be resolved included health care, unpredictable schedules and pension plans for senior employees.

The store, a tourist attraction famous for its prominence in the city's Thanksgiving Day parade, hasn't had a strike since 1972.

Workers in branch stores in the Bronx, Queens and White Plains, New York, were prepared to strike, as well.

"In these continued negotiations for a fair contract at Macy's, we have support from countless leaders and allies in New York and across the country," Appelbaum said. "Macy's needs to move quickly to put in place a real framework for a new contract that addresses the needs of workers."

Seeing the threat of a strike as real, Macy's placed ads seeking temporary workers in local newspapers including The New York Times.

Macy's spokeswoman Elina Kazan said earlier, "We are committed to keeping the lines of communication open and continuing the talks round-the-clock with the goal of reaching an agreement that is fair and equitable both for our workers and the company."

The ads seeking temporary workers are a "standard but necessary practice" to ensure preparedness in the event of a strike, she added.

Some workers, concerned about how they would get by without any wages, were hesitant to walk out.

The labor dispute came with Macy's struggling with slowing sales growth and intensifying competition on all fronts.

Shoppers increasingly spend more of their money at places like TJ Maxx, and other discounters, or they don't spend money in stores at all. Online threats have reshaped the retail landscape.

Industry watchers believe Amazon.com could become the country's biggest clothing merchant by next year, dethroning Macy's.

The union representing workers at Macy's says the cost of health care for workers wass unreasonable: Deductibles for a single worker were $3,000, and $6,000 for a family.

The RWDSU's Appelbaum says workers wanted more predictable schedules. And liberal return policies, which have become crucial in the battle for consumers who are shopping online, have cut into worker sales commissions.