Streams

Strand Bookstore, Workers Tussle Over Contract

Monday, April 02, 2012

books (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

The owners and workers of the legendary Strand Bookstore are in a contract dispute, tussling over the implementation of a two-tier wage system, employee’s healthcare contributions and other benefits.

The store’s 140 non-management employees, members of the United Autoworker’s Union, will vote on a new contract this week.

While Strand management says the store has to be leaner, workers argue the proposed contract threatens the quality of service in the store.

The most troubling part of the agreement, according to workers, is to plan to split them into two groups based on seniority – those who started on or after September 1, 2011 and those who started earlier. In the later years of the contract, newer employees would receive fewer benefits.

“Two-tiered wage systems are disastrous for the union and for life inside the store,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at University of California, Santa Barbara.

By splitting the workers into two groups with different benefits, he said, these systems pit workers against each other. 

Two-tier wage systems have previously been used in the airline and grocery unions. In 2007, auto workers agreed to a two-tier wage system to prop up troubled car companies.

“The fact that this system is showing up in a small independent bookstore like the Strand is a troubling trend,” said Olivia Rosane, who works in the store’s fiction section.

But General Manager Eddie Sutton said – in addition to a slow economy – the store is facing threats from against Amazon, Barnes & Noble and e-readers and needs to stay competitive.

“Some of those folks can compete on price and availability in ways that we can’t,” he said. “Some don’t pay as much rent as perhaps we would have to do, and we’re, you know, challenged in that way.”

But store’s employees and their passion for books is one thing the Strand can offer that online sellers can’t match, he added.

“The folks who work here make this experience, they make this store, and we’re incredibly proud of them,” said Sutton. “I wish that the economy was better.”

Sutton declined to address the specifics of the contract, but employees reported it includes a wage freeze for 1-1/2 years. (The previous contract guaranteed raises of 62 cents an hour every six months.)

The new contract would increase employee contributions to health insurance to $15 a week from $10. It would cut personal and sick days from nine days a year to five for the first years of the contract.

Correction:The original version of this article said Nelson Lichtenstein was the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at University of California, Berkeley. This is incorrect. Lichtenstein works at the University of California, Santa Barbara. WNYC regrets the error.

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Comments [10]

Ex-employee from nyc from NYC

The Strand used to be a great place to work out, especially if you were young and bohemian. But then Fred Bass's daughter took it over. She's neither a book or art person, and definitely not a people person. She's quite ignorant and rude. That was the first step in the process of "re-tooling" the store from one that was literary into one that sells doodads every where you look. The second phase of the transformation came when they hired Eddie Sutton in the early 90s. Believe me, myself and others that worked there at the time could smell what Sutton was: a sociopathic opportunist that neither cared about literature or anything else except becoming a big fish in a small pond. sad indeed.

Jan. 26 2013 11:13 AM
MC from NY NY

THE STRAND GOOD EMPLOYEES ARE GONE!!!! ANY EMPLOYEE WITH BAD ATTITUDE MUST BE WORKING UNDER THE BOSS...F.B.AND HIS NON BOOK READER DAUGHTER NANCY BASS.

Oct. 05 2012 04:42 PM
MC

THE ONLY THING THAT MAKES STRAND A NITEMARE? IT WOULD BE THE OWNER'S DAUGHTER NANCY BASS, AND OF COURSE EDDIE SUTTON!!! THE EMPLOYEES WITH GOOD ATTITUDES ARE HOME TRAINED..AND THOSE WITH BAD ATTITUDE?? MUST BE THE WORK ENVIROMENT!!!!!!!!

Oct. 05 2012 04:39 PM

Hi Professor Lichtenstein,

We’ve updated the piece to reflect that change and apologize for the error. Thanks very much for bringing it to our attention.

Apr. 05 2012 11:25 AM
Nelson Lichtenstein

Tracy:

Good report, but I am Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara - not Berkeley!! This is important because we are in both academic and quasi political competition with our big sister. Please correct at your earliest convenience.

Nelson Lichtenstein
MacArthur Foundation Chair in History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Apr. 03 2012 07:34 PM
David Burstein from Manhattan

"The folks who work here make this experience"? Are you kidding? I was born and raised in Manhattan, and I've been going to Strand for well over 20 years and the staff has always been rude, and only help you grudgingly.
It has been an accepted fact that if you wanted to purchase a book at Strand at a discount, one would have to put up with the attitude.
And they get healthcare? They should be happy to even be employed. I'm a firm believer in unions, but for those who deserve it. You get better service at the post office.

-David Burstein

Apr. 02 2012 06:31 PM
previous employee from nyc

The statement "The previous contract guaranteed raises of 62 cents an hour every six months," is incorrect. The previous contract guaranteed a raise of 62 cents an hour every year.

As the previous poster pointed out the entire building at 12th and Broadway is owned by the Bass family.

Apr. 02 2012 03:01 PM
Mark

The Strand is so picked over I have never found anything good there, ever.

Apr. 02 2012 10:22 AM
Former employee from nyc

"Some of those folks can compete on price and availability in ways that we can’t,” he said. “Some don’t pay as much rent as perhaps we would have to do, and we’re, you know, challenged in that way.”

Nope. The owner of the store, Fred Bass, also owns the building that houses it. 'nuff said.

Apr. 02 2012 10:09 AM
Barry Blitstein from New York City

The Strand has been shedding its long-term staff for some time, in favor of a cheaper work force. This plan would encourage an acceleration of the practice. In any event, it has forfeited its right to represent itself as the last of the Fourth Avenue used bookstores. Shopping there is no longer an adventure.

Apr. 02 2012 05:08 AM

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