Barnes & Noble workers at NYC store await union vote date
Barnes & Noble store in Union Square, New York | Foursquare

NEW YORK —Some 105 workers at Barnes & Noble’s flagship store at New York’s Union Square—a grand late 1800s Manhattan edifice filled floor-to-high-ceilings with books—await a decision by the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office on when they can vote to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Union Square workers turned in so many union recognition election cards that they asked B&N management for voluntary recognition—card check—on April 28. Management is still deciding. If it says no, the NLRB will run the election. That gives RWDSU time to campaign, and B&N bosses time to denigrate it.

By the time the Union Square workers vote, RWDSU will know if it won a recognition election at the B&N Education store at Rutgers University. That store is part of a separate chain of college bookstores. Those 67 workers are scheduled to vote on May 12. And there was another RWDSU election filing at a regular Barnes & Noble in Hadley, Mass., on April 17. That store has 17 workers.

The Barnes & Noble elections follow a string of RWDSU wins, covering at least 300 workers, at other high-profile independent bookstores in metro New York alone: McNally Jackson, Goods for the Study, Greenlight Bookstore and Book Culture.

B&N’s Union Square workers told RWDSU they faced a host of issues, not just substandard pay compared to colleagues at other booksellers. Safety issues, management favoritism, erratic schedules, tasks and duties, and workplace harassment were among them.

“We don’t have the proper training we need to handle the conflicts that arise at our store,” lead bookseller Desiree Nelson told RWDSU. “We’ve seen an increase in homeless and combative customers. We want to keep ourselves and other customers safe. We need added safety measures only a union contract can provide.” Those include “conflict resolution training and safety protocols.”

The store is also short-staffed as management assigns workers to tasks they’re not trained for, “or properly compensated for,” said Nelson. It’s short of equipment and “we’re stretched thin.

“With a union, we’d win the pay, needed benefits, and long-overdue training and safety resources we need to attract more co-workers and adequately staff the store so our customers have a safer and better experience shopping with us,” said Nelson stated.

“I’m organizing for pay raises in a city where the cost of living is rapidly increasing, but our wages are not, Union Square bookseller Kaitlyn Keel told RWDSU. “In addition, workers’ safety is consistently brushed aside in exchange for high profits while we suffer the consequences.”

Online reactions were positive, with one humorous incident. “As a former Barnes & Noble bookseller, I’m happy to see this,” Alana Levin tweeted. “If my job there had been union, I would have stayed a lot longer.”

The humor came when author Evan Dreilich, who concentrates on labor-management relations and finances in sports, for The Athletic, walked into the Union Square store for a book-signing of his latest, Winning Solves Everything—and found himself viewing the crowd of B&N workers who came to present union election authorization cards and demand card-check recognition.

“So what happens when someone who covers labor in baseball randomly decides to walk into the Union Square Barnes and Noble to sign copies of his book? Why, a unionization announcement, of course,” Dreilich tweeted, over a photo taken in back of him and looking out at the workers.

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Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.