A new chapter: Workers at Park Slope Barnes and Noble store vote overwhelmingly to unionize

employees at park slope barnes and noble
Just over a month after they first notified management of their intention to unionize, employees at the Park Slope Barnes and Noble voted overwhelmingly to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores Union.
File photo courtesy of RWDSU

Employees at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Park Slope voted overwhelmingly in favor of unionizing last week.

Booksellers, cashiers, and baristas at the store first notified management of their intention to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in May, and asked that the company voluntarily recognize their effort.

Barnes and Noble declined to recognize the union — and on Thursday, 88% of employees voted in favor of unionization — becoming the fourth Barnes and Noble location to join RWDSU this year.

“We’re really excited about the results and moving forward with the process,” said senior bookseller Haruka Iwasaki, in a statement. “I feel a sense of unity within the store. I’m happy that we’re coming together to ensure our voices are being heard.” 

Workers at the Park Slope store said they were motivated to unionize by low pay, unstable and inconsistent work schedules, and issues of workplace harassment and favoritism.

park slope barnes and noble exterior
Employees at the Park Slope store say they are underpaid compared to their colleagues at local indie bookstores, and face issues of favoritism and unstable scheduling practices. Image courtesy of Google Maps

Part-time employees at Barnes and Noble start at $15 per hour, according to an RWDSU rep, and are not offered benefits or insurance. At local independent bookstores represented by RWDSU, like Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene, part-time workers start at $17 per hour.

Conditions at Barnes and Noble stores, including the one in Park Slope, deteriorated during the pandemic and have not improved, according to an RWDSU representative. Employees said they are not properly trained to deal with difficult customers and harassment, which can cause unsafe situations, and that many workers do not have health insurance or benefits. 

“I am happy and relieved about the outcome today. Excited to see how things go moving forward,” said bookseller Sydyl Akhanji in a statement. “I hope B&N is listening to us today and will work with us as we begin negotiations.”

Last month, the Barnes and Noble flagship location in Union Square voted 76-2 to unionize, representing a big win for the movement. There are seven Barnes and Noble stores in New York City — five in Manhattan, including the Union Square flagship, and two in Brooklyn — one in Park Slope and one in Cobble Hill. 

“We look forward to agreeing to a contract with the Park Slope booksellers,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. 

Contract negotiations are expected to begin sometime later this year. 

“Bookstore workers across the industry, from independent sellers to corporate behemoths like Barnes & Noble face safety concerns, lack of training, and substandard wages,” said RWDSU president Stuart Applebaum in a statement. “Only with a union, will these issues and more be heard. It is time for the industry to open a new chapter on how it treats its workers, and Barnes & Noble workers are writing the book.”