Venerated (and endless), New York’s The Strand is a nationally renowned independent bookstore known for its miles upon miles of books and ever-toiling and extremely knowledgeable employees. It is also one of the few large retail stores in New York City to have its employees represented by a union. For over 35 years, most employees have been members of the United Auto Workers (UAW represents a lot of service workers, in addition to those in the automobile industry).

However, as John Farley writes in Metrofocus, management appears to be engaging in certain policies that aim to disrupt and eventually dissolve unionized workers at The Strand. After the bankruptcy of Borders, the owners of The Strand have begun to instill a more corporate atmosphere in the running of the independent bookstore.

While it might not be surprising that an influx of corporate management would rub an independent bookstore employee the wrong way, McCallion says the problem is that in the past year or so, The Strand has hired more non-unionized managers than they’ve ever had (“about 33 or 35″). The contract of the 150 or so unionized employees expired last September. McCallion said that in December, after they’d hired the outside managers, the Strand’s owners offered the unionized rank and file employees who stock the shelves and man the registers a new contract that would reduce their paid personal days and sick days by nearly half, and nearly double the amount each employee would have to pay for their health insurance premiums.

The proposed contract could lead to a strike by Strand workers if it is not amended to offer what they view as fair wages and benefits.

According to that employee, the commonalities that unite the vast majority of The Strand’s unionized employees — they work 40 hours per week, aren’t originally from New York and are often pursuing artistic work on the side — also makes them vulnerable to intimidation.

“We’re naturally insecure, we don’t have family here, so they make you feel like this is the only thing you’ve got to hold onto. The managers are not in the union and that’s for a reason,” he said, adding that he sensed many of the managers are scared about losing their jobs, but are being pressured to intimidate employees by their bosses.

Recently, Strand employees have been meeting with labor activists from OWS, and on Thursday, issued a press release detailing their discontent with the proposed contract and efforts by ownership to undermine the union.


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