The Strand Bookstore Dispute Continues

| March 23, 2012 4:00 AM

Chris McCallion in front his workplace, the iconic Strand Bookstore near Union Square. He believes a new contract pits new and old employees against one another. Photo courtesy of Sam Lewis

Last week, MetroFocus reported that many employees of the beloved Strand Bookstore believe the retailer is  transforming into a worker-unfriendly, corporate-style environment. The employees’ biggest qualm was with a new contract the ownership had proposed. And yesterday, employees say the owners offered them a new version of a previous contract, which they believe would significantly reduce  benefits and wages, and pit new workers against old. It looks like this dispute may intensify.

According to employees MetroFocus spoke with, The Strand has hired a large number of new non-unionized managers over the past year, which troubles the 150 or so unionized workers who stock the shelves and work the registers. But their main concern is that their contract expired last September, and both a contract proposed by the Strand’s owners in December and another just yesterday call for a two-tier wage system.

In the new contract they received yesterday, there are “some things that are more beneficial for us. The problem is that there is still a two-tier wage system,” said Chris McCallion, a Strand employee who has become somewhat of a spokesperson for the  pushback against the ownership, and is collaborating with activists in the Occupy Wall Street  movement toward that end.

Many union members claim the two-tier wage system is designed to produce financial disagreements between new and older employees, and weaken unions, because it stipulates new and old workers get different rates of pay, raises and benefits.

“Any kind of multi-tier system is an attack directly on young workers,” said Harrison Magee, one of the founders of Occupy Your Workplace, who has worked with The Strand employees on their negotiations. “New hires are going to be working less often, working longer hours and getting paid less.”

The Strand’s general manager, Eddie Sutton — a non-unionized employee who has been at The Strand since 1991 — told MetroFocus, “We’re working with the union as we’ve done and that contract is with the negotiating committee and the union. And that’s where it stands, and that process continues as it always has. One of the things that this has been characterized as is a dispute or a struggle, and it’s really just been negotiations on both sides — the union and the store.”

The employees also say they are still frustrated that the new contract calls for their paid sick days to be cut in half, and that it calls for a one-and-a-half-year wage freeze.

“We’re losing things for people already in the [union] membership and at the same time the people who are coming in are not encouraged to stay very long,” said McCallion. “That’s kind of a reflection of how the business wants to go, shifting from knowledgeable booksellers to an expendable labor force.”

Next week, The Strand union members will vote on whether to approve the new contract, something McCallion doesn’t think the majority of members will do. And if they reject it?

McCallion said things will “get hairy,” especially because he claims the union local has not been particularly helpful. He still hopes The Strand’s owners might be willing to offer yet another contract.

But hinting at collaborative work between Strand employees and Occupy activists, McCallion said, “We have resources available to us, where if need be we can escalate our resistance, but only if necessary. It is starting to get tight.”

  • Frank Felberbaum

    This has nothing to do with the occupy group who should mind their own business. Negotiations are going on & there should be no outside influence. This is a private store that has been here since early in the last century and it is the most unique of it’s kind. Do we want to see it go out of business because of rabblerouse and groups who should not even exist? They will come to an agreement. This is beginning to sound like the storm troopers waiting to march on small business.

    • maria

      Mr.Felberbaum you have no idea what you talking about!!!try talking with that has worked their for over 5years and i bet you will be shocked to find out that you are sticking your nose on the wrong side!!!! the union is not on your side!! im all for the outside to intervene in helping with the contract!!!!!!!
      former employee.

  • Lenny DeFranco

    I’d like to hear some particulars that make this into NOT just a group demanding more for no reason. How many vacation days? How is it becoming exploitative? Young worker here: tiered wages are there to foster resentment? Really? Fostering resentment would be to make the same amount there after thirty years as the kid who just started, is that not correct? And what is the nature of the law preventing them from hiring the army of recent college graduates that would do it for free?

  • Charliehoags

    The Strand is a joke. Nancy Bass Wyden can’t even manage to maintain integrity within her domain. Just check out the “Staff Picks” on their own website. Sutherland has all his wife’s books listed. Independent bookstore??? I don’t think so. I guess we’re a society that just demands principles from Goldman Sachs executives. Buy from amazon. It is what it is.

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