Much thanks to our comrades at Occupy Your Workplace for their invaluable support on the Strand campaign.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Strand ownership mounts unprecedented attack on union
March 15, 2012
MANHATTAN, NY In addition to being an independent, family-run bookstore, the Strand is unique because it is a union shop. This could change, however, if ownership succeeds in pushing through a union-busting contract in the current round of negotiations.
As the only survivor of the famous Book Row, The Strand has been a beloved part of the New York community since 1927. Its continued success is based, in part, on the fact that it’s been unionized for around 30 years. Strand employees are currently provided with the benefits and job security that allow them to build careers as booksellers, and ownership can retain a passionate staff that grows more knowledgeable every day.
In addition, the Strand provides a positive example for the rest of the retail industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 5.4% of the U.S. retail trade was represented by unions in 2011. Retail is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country, and union shops like the Strand can show retailers how to grow while treating their workers with dignity.
In the past, ownership has negotiated fairly with the union, and both sides have made concessions when necessary. But unfortunately, during the past year, ownership has begun to undermine the union. First, it has increased the number of non-union managers relative to union employees. This weakens the union’s numbers, since much of the clerical work performed by managers could be performed just as easily by rank and file workers. Second, 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.
Their contract proposals include reducing personal days and holidays by almost half and more than doubling the amount employees must pay toward health insurance premiums, which would make health insurance unaffordable for many employees. Ownership’s most hostile proposal, however, is the creation of a two-tiered system. Such a system would stipulate that employees hired after a certain date would receive lower wages and benefits than those hired before. The implementation of such systems is becoming understood as a method of union busting, since it inevitably undermines solidarity between new and senior union members. A two-tiered system, for example, was part of the contract that almost led the New York office cleaners represented by the SEIU local 32BJ to strike last December. So far, Strand ownership has refused to present the union with any concrete, economic data that would justify reductions in wages and benefits, and nothing can justify an attempt to break the union.
When asked how the Strand was able to “stay afloat financially,” Strand co-owner Nancy Bass Wyden told The Daily Beast, “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.” Strand ownership acknowledges that its workers are vital to its success; it should honor that fact by offering them a contract that respects their collective bargaining rights and compensates them fairly for the work they do.
WORKERS for a DEMOCRATIC WORKPLACE
1) The growth of retail and service sectors in the US over the past few decades has meant for non-skilled workers a greater chance of lower wages, fewer protections, and shorter periods of stable employment. Workers are atomized, bear all consequences on an individual basis, and do not demand the protections due to them. The very precariousness, transience, and degradation of their labor means workers do not conceive of themselves as such, and do not experience their daily work conditions as a class whose long-term interest are common.
2) Young workers without families are often accelerated into the workforce by the burden of massive student debts; they feel trapped within their circumstances, yet exactly the opposite is true. The high turnover and degree of horizontal mobility inevitable in the retail and service industries already anticipates the risks workers face when challenging their employer, while those with union protection have an especially unique opportunity to set a series of precedents in the normalized relations of their employment.
3) Furthermore, de-industrialized cities with large populations of student and graduate workers are highly visible to both consumers and media locally and internationally. Actions taken by workers to improve their lot and that of their colleagues are thus more amplified than they would otherwise be. The form of collective public action reflects the content of workers demands.
4) Our immediate task is to advance upon all opportunities to solidify a culture of community and mutual aid among workers. On the one hand, solidarity takes the positive form of diligently maintaining common consciousness of each other’s needs, on the other hand the negative form of staging collective demonstrations of power and resistance when transgressions occur against us. These two forms function complementary as the necessary conditions for each other’s development.
5) Therefore, we seek to construct a network of otherwise precarious workers, the ends of whom are: firstly, the reinforcement of the union’s power to protect basic workers rights, and secondly, to create an organized system of mutual aid and protection on every shop floor we inhabit, reliant entirely upon the workers’ independent initiative to maintain a constant intensity of solidarity through action.
We already have power within the institutions we inhabit;
the point is to exercise it.