US bookstore workers form Barnes & Noble Union!

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Barnes & Noble Union members in Union Square, New York

Workers at Barnes & Noble, the United States largest chain of bookstores, are gearing up for a nationwide union drive after six shops voted to organise over the past year.

‘Many more’ stores will unionise, according to workers who have joined the newly formed Barnes & Noble Union, demanding better pay and conditions.
Employees accuse the chain’s management of dragging their heels during contract negotiations.
James Daunt, the CEO, is said to have embarked upon a months-long campaign to try to dissuade booksellers from unionising.
Jessica Sepple, a bookseller at Barnes & Noble’s flagship New York City store in Union Square said: ‘He would come in and essentially try to talk us out of unionising.
‘The big argument against us unionising was, it would make his life harder, which he would repeat several times. It wasn’t very successful.’
The store voted 76-2 in favour of unionising last summer, becoming one of three in New York City to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.
Another followed in Bloomington, Illinois, while two others – in San Jose, California, and Hadley, Massachusetts – joined other unions.
Barnes & Noble has over 600 stores across the US.
It is owned by the investment giant Elliott Management, which also owns Britain’s Waterstones, which is also run by Daunt.
Sepple added: ‘Our purpose for unionising is to get some recognition for the dignity of workers.
‘And having sat at the table and currently in negotiations with Barnes & Noble, it is disappointing that Barnes & Noble has not treated this as if that dignity is deserved.’
Workers at the Union Square site have experienced several issues for years including low wages, safety concerns with ladders and book storage, and being given more duties than a job initially entailed.
Sepple concluded: ‘If you’re good at your job, you’re just going to get more work.
‘It takes a lot of knowledge, research and a love of reading and books to make it happen.’
At another New York store, in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, workers won a union election in July 2023.
Sydul Akhanji said: ‘If the company wants to build itself around knowledgeable booksellers, its workers need to be able to afford rent and food.’
On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, workers at Barnes & Noble backed unionising earlier this month.
Esther Rosenfield, a barista at the store, said: ‘We live in the most expensive city in the country.
‘And our starting wage until very recently was minimum wage, and it’s just not sustainable.’
Shortly after her store filed for a union election, Rosenfield said, employees there and at other locations received a $2-an-hour market rate adjustment: ‘We were told basically that this had nothing to do with the union.
‘But I think people can draw their own conclusions based on just the proximity to when it happened.’
Workers in Bloomington, Illinois, heard about the union votes in New York last summer, and held their own – and unanimously voted to unionise – in November a vote that was ratified in February.
Zane Crockett, a bookseller in Bloomington said: ‘The issues we’re facing are company-wide.
‘We’re all facing the same issues. If one small store in the midwest can unionise, then anyone can..’
Barnes & Noble workers in Bloomington had complained about issues including ‘skeleton crews’.
When they declared their intent to unionise, he said, executives started visiting the store and asking what they could do improve conditions.
Crockett said: ‘The moment we voted that completely stopped.’
Meanwhile, bus drivers and monitors at Student Transportation of America (STA) in Bedford, New Hampshire have voted overwhelmingly to join Teamsters Local 633.
The 55 workers provide student transportation for the Bedford School District.
Jeff Padellaro, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 633 in Manchester, New Hampshire said: ‘Congratulations to STA Bedford workers for making their voices heard and securing.
‘Their work is invaluable to the Bedford community and must be rewarded with a strong union contract.
‘We are proud to welcome another group of bus workers to Local 633 and we are looking forward to helping them secure their first Teamsters contract.’
Dan Battistelli, a bus driver at STA Bedford said: ‘We voted to join the Teamsters because we know they will negotiate future contracts that promote our rights and a safe and fair atmosphere in the workplace.
‘We all know that we deliver the most precious cargo there is – your children — to and from school every day and we deserve a fair contract.’
Elsewhere, the City of San Bernardino, California, has recognised Teamsters Local 1932 as the trade union for all full-time city workers – from public works to city hall and everything in between.
A majority demanded union recognition earlier in the year, which the city has accepted.
David Lamas, a lead maintenance worker for San Bernardino’s Public Works Department’s Quality of Life Division said: ‘Through worker power, we will improve standards for workers and residents who enjoy the services we provide here in the city.’
The new members will now prepare for negotiations ahead of next year’s expiration of their current contract with the city.
Workers are focused on strengthening job protections that many other union workers count on as basic rights.
Freddy Bermudez, a construction inspector for San Bernardino’s Engineering Department said: ‘It feels amazing heading into negotiations next year knowing that we’ll be able to prepare for it all with our union, Local 1932, which is headquartered in our back yard.’
Phillip Silva, a construction inspector for San Bernardino’s Engineering Department said: ‘We’re proud to be Teamsters, but the fight isn’t over.
‘We have to fix issues that have plagued our unit for years. City of San Bernardino workers are ready to positively transform this city for workers and residents.’

  • On Monday, California’s new $20 minimum wage for fast-food workers was put into effect.

The wage rise will impact workers at about 3,000 fast-food locations across the state, and comes as a result of years of lobbying, protests, and strikes by the Fight for $15 which then became the Fight for $20 and the trade union movement.
Labour advocates have hailed the new law as an important step toward winning all workers a true living wage, while some business owners have complained that the new law will cost them too much and force them to lay off workers.
A statement by the Movement for $20 said: ‘This bill (which was signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom on September 28, 2023) raises the hourly minimum-wage rate for many of the state’s fast-food workers, with some exceptions, to $20.
It also established a Fast Food Council within the state’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), which is made up of fast-food workers, industry representatives, and government officials.
In February, fast-food workers announced the formation of the California Fast Food Workers Union (CAFFWU), the first-ever statewide fast-food workers union.
The new union will operate as part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which also backs the Fight for $20.
Joseph Bryan, executive vice president of SEIU and member of the California Fast Food Council said: They can afford it.
‘The top nine publicly traded fast-food companies alone took in nearly $25 billion in profits in 2023.
‘And, multiple studies have shown that higher wages lead to increased worker retention, recruitment, and job growth.
‘The minimum wage in California has gone up every year since 2015.
‘On the same timeline, fast-food restaurants in California added 142,000 jobs.’