The store is just the second to unionize nationwide at the book retail giant.
By Dusty Christensen
HADLEY — Workers at the Barnes & Noble in Hadley, Massachusetts, have announced their intent to unionize, making them just the second store to organize in the giant book retailer’s nationwide network of some 600 stores.
A group of workers and more than 40 of their allies gathered in front of the Mountain Farms Mall location on Monday afternoon, chanting “union power!” and calling on the company to recognize their union, which would represent 18 booksellers and baristas. The announcement comes less than two weeks after around 70 employees at the Rutgers University Barnes & Noble announced their intent to become the first of the company’s stores to unionize.
“My heart rate is through the roof,” bookseller and receiver Thalia Ward told The Shoestring after the crowd staged an energetic rally in front of the building. She said she is still working part time for minimum wage three years after starting at the location. “Hopefully we can set an example for Barnes & Nobles across the country.”
Workers said that they are organizing with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459 around a handful of key issues, from low pay and inadequate hours to a lack of accessibility inside the store.
A Barnes & Noble spokesperson did not respond to email and voicemail messages left Monday afternoon.
The union drive is one of several groundbreaking drives locally. Just down the road in Hadley, workers at Trader Joe’s won the first-ever union victory in the company’s history last summer. And Mount Holyoke College student-workers recently joined a wave of undergraduates organizing at their residential-life jobs nationwide.
“We are often told that booksellers and baristas are Barnes & Noble’s most valuable assets,” the workers said in a statement they read at Monday’s rally, calling on the company to recognize their union and begin bargaining a first contract. “We agree, and have decided to come together to stand up for our rights as workers in order to foster the working conditions we deserve.”
The union’s statement said that the past year has been “one of the most profitable times” for Barnes & Noble, with new stores opening and renovations happening at existing stores.
“Meanwhile, the majority of our staff are still underpaid and without benefits, even while many of us are working nearly or actually at full time hours,” the statement read. “Our schedules are inconsistent and often fall outside of our (unreasonably low) rostered number of hours. Our hours are constantly subject to unexpected and unexplained cuts, despite our store being consistently understaffed.”
Communication with corporate and management has also suffered, the workers said.
“Bosses have brushed off concerns around issues like a lack of accessibility in stores,” they said. “We are reminded that we must set up the store in a way that purposefully makes it difficult for customers to navigate. While this may make sense for able-bodied customers who will stop to look at displays, it is a nightmare to navigate under any other circumstance for customers and workers alike.”
The employees said that the best way to address their issues is to unionize so that they, as book enthusiasts and community members, can best serve their customers.
“It’s so exciting,” bookseller Cristi Jacques told The Shoestring. “I really hope the company recognizes the union quickly.”
Barnes & Noble bills itself as the top book retailer in the entire country with stores in all 50 states.
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123.
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