Retail Industry Leaders Association & The Labor Activity in Retail Report

IRI Podcast episode on the Retail Industry Leaders Association

The retail industry has faced many challenges in recent years – the continuing shift to online shopping, chronic supply chain issues, staff shortages – all of which has emboldened labor unions, who filed 77% more retail industry representation petitions in 2021 than they did in 2020. Where that number will go in 2022 is an educated guess – and even if you’re NOT in retail, there are always lessons we can learn outside our core industries! Today's guest is Evan Armstrong, Vice President of Government Affairs at RILA, the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Here, he explains:

  • RILA's role in the retail industry;
  • Retail concerns in a post-pandemic world;
  • How labor unions have found momentum during this turbulent time; and
  • How organizations should prepare for increased labor activity.

If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 


Advancing the Retail Industry

  • The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) represents innovative leaders across the country. They are mainly based in advocating for public policy for issues such as taxes and workforce policy.
    • The pandemic accelerated interest in issues facing the retail industry, especially when it comes to safety for workers and employees.
    • Additionally, social media and younger generations are creating a brand new factor when it comes to labor organizing in retail.


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Concerns in a Post-Pandemic World

  • There are still many concerns for RILA members in the tail end of the pandemic, especially regarding safety of their customers and their employees. 
  • The retail industry is also dealing with a lack of talent. There are many positions open, but not enough people to fill them, as in many other industries.
    • This has also empowered labor movements, and employers are working on developing strategies to mitigate labor relations that meet the demands of current and potential employees.

Retail and Labor Organizing

  • There has been a lot of buzz with labor organizing in large companies such as Starbucks and Amazon, and this has caught the attention of other retail companies.
  • States like California. Illinois, and other blue states are where some of these movements are starting this momentum.
  • The Labor Activity Report in Retail provides executives with useful information to compare to their own companies and develop new strategies.

Changes in Labor Laws

  • During a Democratic administration, there tends to be more activity in terms of labor activity and changes. Recently, there have been some aggressive changes that have motivated RILA to write briefs and reach out to educate and inform its members about what the Board is doing, and how it will impact retail and the American economy.
    • Education helps with the impact of these changes in labor laws, both short and long term. 
  • Retailers need to pay attention to the Captive Audience Meeting memo could have broad ramifications on leaders. The intent of this memo was to make it easier for employees to organize labor unions, and across the board, there are more tools being provided to employees to organize labor organizations

Worker Activists

  • Employers must rethink strategies for employee engagement to empower employees to become advocates.
    • A younger workforce has expressed desires to be more involved with an organization's mission, and being a part of the decision making process. Handling the desires and new dynamic of these younger employees is something corporate leaders are going to have to grapple with.
    • More employees are also expecting corporate social activism and if that expectation is not met, they can take action into their own hands. 
  • It is important that there is a connection between a company's brand identity and  representation and what the employees desire.
  • Company leaders need to think proactively about ways to excite their employees and represent them. 

Preparing for Increased Labor Activity

  • By understanding the attitudes and perspectives of frontline workers, companies can better anticipate increases in labor activities.
  • By retraining managers on identifying issues, and learning more about this evolving dynamic, it will make aligning an organization’s goals with its actions much clearer. 

The Retail Industry Leaders Association

  • The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) has members who are some of the largest retailers in the country. Members can learn from and communicate with other top industry leaders and learn more about policies, tactics, and strategies for the best ways to do business. Peer-to-peer networking is one of the most significant benefits of being a member of RILA.
  • RILA aims for the retail industry to be as strong as possible, taking feedback from CEOs and high-ranking executives to put effective labor and employer policies into place, and advocating for the retail industry in Washington.
  • More information about RILA’s mission, work, and events can be found on their website at 

Evan Armstrong Background

  • JD, Law from Villanova University, Charles Widger School of Law
  • Bachelor of Science, Business; Marketing; Business Law from Villanova University
  • Mr. Armstrong began his career working as General Counsel/Legislative Assistant for Congressman Mike Coffman (CO) and as Legislative Counsel for Congressman Tim Walberg (MI-07)
  • He currently serves as the Vice President Government Affairs for the Retail Industry Leaders Association.


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