by Mike Vidafar
Strand Bookstore has been a part ofNew York since 1927. And even as its brethren on “Book Row” have met their end, this iconic storefront has remained. However, the way in whichStrand does business may be about to change.
Strand, an independently run bookstore, has for the past 30 years, employed members of the United Auto Workers Union Local 2179; however, that policy may be about to change. According to reports by union advocates Workers for a Democratic Workplace, Strands is seeking to implement a “two tier pay system,” which could potentially create animosity between union employees, leading to the union disassociating.
According to a statement released by Workers for a Democratic Workplace, as presently constituted, “Strandemployees are currently provided with the benefits and job security that allow them to build careers as booksellers.” But if Strand ownership does not concede its negotiation points, many union benefits will be abolished.
Though the store’s owners, Fred Bass and daughter Nancy Bass-Wyden have undeniably worked in good faith during past union negotiations, union advocates feel that the store is clearly moving away from union-workers. Chris McCallion, a Strandemployee since 2010, has said that since Borders closed, things at Strands have been changing. “Since Borders went under they’ve [The Strand's owners] been directly harvesting managers from those stores,” said McCallion. “Normally they’d promote someone who’d been working here for a while, someone who was a good worker.”
This sort of tension adds to recent negotiation struggles, according to Workers for a Democratic Union. “In the past, ownership has negotiated fairly with the union, and both sides have made concessions when necessary. Unfortunately, during the past year, ownership has begun to undermine the union… [by increasing] the number of non-union managers relative to union employees…and most dramatically, it has used the current round of negotiations to push a contract that would substantially reduce benefits and begin the process of breaking the union.”
As per their Mar. 15 statement, union advocates seeStrandownership’s negotiations as an attempt to create dissidence between union members. “Personally, I think the biggest problem is that they want to introduce a two-tier wage system,” said a 24-year-old femaleStrandemployee who started working there nine months ago, and asked that her name not be used. “That’s been the main tactic to break unions since the auto industry was going under.”
The employee, who commented to John Farley of MetroFocus, echoes the concerns of many union employees. Despite their negotiation tactics, however, Nancy Bass-Wyden (Co-Owner) has acknowledged the vital role ofStrand’s staff. “We try very hard to give our customers the best service and the best shopping experience possible…Our staff is incredibly passionate about reading and they love to recommend books and talk to customers about shared interests.”
Nevertheless, keeping such passionate staff is a daunting task, considering thatStrandhas 55,000 square feet of space, and is considered one of the largest used bookstores in the world. With so many books, it’s impressive thatStrand’s employees manage to stay on top of their duties and maintain a pleasant atmosphere for customers.
Adding to the tension is the fact that some recall a time when working at Strand’s was not so pleasant. Lower East Side Punk Rock musician Patti Smith, who worked for Strands in the early 70’s, has painted a less rosy picture of the employment experience. In an interview for New York Magazine in 2005, she said “[I worked at Strands for] just a short period [in the early 70’s], and I didn’t like it. I worked in the basement, and it wasn’t very friendly.”
Perhaps the fact that Strands did not begin unionizing its employees until 1976 played a role in Smith’s bad experience at Strand. Today, Strandstands as a beacon of independent bookselling success, even while booksellers around the nation struggle against the rise of the e-book and the omnipresent clout of online retailers like Amazon.com.
Ultimately, while a decision to de-unionize may be unpopular among union employees, there aren’t many sound business options for dying breeds, like independent booksellers, in 2012.
Tags: . Chris McCallion, Amazon.com, Book Row, Borders, Fred Bass, John Farley, MetroFocus, Nancy Bass Wyden, New Yorker Magazine, Patti Smith, Strand, Strand Bookstore, UAW Local 2179, United Auto Workers Union, Workers for a Democratic Workplace
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