Labor-dispute Lover Maud Rozee spoke to the two sides involved in Book Culture’s recent union-related struggles.
On June 26th, Gothamist reported that five of Book Cultures thirty employees claim they were fired because they voted to unionize, and that the vote was marred by unfair tactics by the owners. Today, those employees, as well as their union representative, are distributing flyers calling for a boycott outside Book Culture’s Broadway location.
Book Culture’s owners claim that four of the employees fired because they voted to unionize even though they were classified by Book Culture as managers. The National Labor Relations Board forbids supervisors (or managers) to align themselves with a union, as it would be a conflict of interest. Chris Doeblin, one of Book Culture’s owners, claims the fifth employee was fired over an incident which was “totally unacceptable in the workplace.”
Casey McNamara was one of the employees fired from her position hours after the vote. According to McNamara and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), the majority of Book Culture’s managers do not fall under the NLRB’s definition of “supervisor.” McNamara claims that the “managers” didn’t have the abilities to hire, fire, or discipline employees. The union believes that around half of Book Culture’s employees are classified as managers purely as a way for the ownership to decrease the size of the bargaining unit and create divisions within the staff. The NWDSU has filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against Doeblin because of the firings.
Chris Doeblin, one of Book Culture’s two owners, says that Book Culture’s managers all accepted their position as “managers,” and understood that they would be paid a higher wage and have new responsibilities, including making judgements about discipline and promotions. Although the results of election are not yet certified, Doeblin says that the owners have no problem recognizing or negotiating with a union at Book Culture. According to Doeblin, Book Culture has an issue only with employees who have a managerial role aligning themselves with the union, which he views as a violation of labor law.
Doeblin thinks the boycott is “shameful”:
There are all kinds of injustice all over this city… There are a lot of better labor fights that require some real fight. Having stood on this block, having raised my family here for 30 years, it’s a shame that people can so quickly defame not only the store, but the owners of the stores and our families. We would never do anything but comport ourselves in a way which is supportive of our community… These people are mistakenly led to have chosen to organize this store, with its six employees, instead of going out to find some real place where there’s some real injustice.
Despite the boycott, McNamara has no desire to see Book Culture go out of business, or change ownership. “This is not an attack on the business. We’re here because we’re committed to selling books, and we love the customers. To claim that we’re undermining the business is, to me, absurd. I wouldn’t be putting myself through this if I didn’t care about the business. I could get another job tomorrow.” The fired employees only want customers to boycott Book Culture until they are reinstated. McNamara says that the rest of Book Culture’s remaining employees (except those who are related to the owners) are 100% in support of boycott and the Unfair Labor Practice charge filed against Doeblin by the RWDSU.
The case will go to a hearing held by the National Labor Relations Board, which will determine whether Book Culture’s owners acted illegally in firing the five employees.