Park Slope Barnes & Noble employees file for union election

park slope barnes and noble employees
More than 30 employees at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Park Slope have filed for a union election, they announced Thursday.
Photo courtesy of Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union

Employees at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Park Slope are looking to unionize, making them the second New York City branch of the book emporium to organize, they announced Thursday.

Roughly 30 workers at the 7th Avenue store have already signed authorization cards in order to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, according to the RWDSU, and notified management of their intention to unionize on May 25. 

While awaiting an official response from higher-ups, the group filed an election petition with the National Labor Relations Board.

The bookselling giant has declined to voluntarily recognize unions at its flagship location in Union Square and elsewhere, but had yet to make a decision regarding the Park Slope store as of Thursday afternoon. 

“I have been working at this store for over a year and I constantly see how our low wages affect me and my co-workers in what I can choose to afford each week whether it’s food, a MetroCard or time spent with friends,” said senior bookseller Haruka Iwasaki. “There is an unfair balance in how much I am working and how much we are getting paid.”

Employees — including booksellers, baristas, cashiers, and maintenance workers — said they are paid unfairly, especially in comparison with independent bookstores in the area, and face unstable scheduling practices, not knowing how many hours they will be working in a given week. 

Starting part-time workers are paid minimum wage, $15 per hour, said RWDSU rep Chelsea Connor, and are not offered health benefits. Pay and benefits vary among more senior and full-time staff. At indie bookstores already represented by RWDSU — including Greenlight Bookstore — pay starts at $17 per hour. 

There are a number of full-time workers at the store, Connor said, and part-timers do sometimes have the opportunity to make the jump — but scheduling is “unpredictable and precarious,” and some part-timers who are scheduled to work full-time hours do not receive benefits. 

Raises are technically available, but all are at the discretion of management.  

barnes & noble union square
Four Barnes & Noble locations — including the flagship store in Union Square — have filed to unionize this year. Photo courtesy Epicgenius/Wikimedia Commons

“I want all of us to experience full-time benefits like health insurance if we work full-time hours,” Iwasaki said. “For these reasons, we are coming together to create a better way to work at this place that we love.”

The workers said they also deal with issues of favoritism by management, unclear job descriptions and duties, and workplace harassment.

“I do think that’s an important part of this, ensuring that workers have the training they need to handle issues with customers in-store,” Connor said. “Whether they be customer service issues, or issues of harassment, or issues of a medical nature. I think they’re just really lacking training and an ability to function in their jobs in the way they really need to.”

Those issues are not exclusive to the Park Slope location — one employee at the Union Square store told Gothamist last month employees are not trained to deal with angry customers or homeless people in the store.

“We have been informed that a petition has been filed with the NLRB in Park Slope, and we look forward to engaging with the booksellers over the next few weeks,” a Barnes & Noble representative told Brooklyn Paper in a statement. 

Barnes & Noble is the largest bookselling chain in the U.S., with roughly 600 locations nationwide, and plans to open 30 more this year.

The privately-held company does not share its revenues, but has celebrated its recovery and expansion since business took a nosedive in the mid-2010s.

Four Barnes & Noble stores in three states — including the Park Slope store — have pushed for unionization so far this year. Earlier this month, workers at the Barnes & Noble store at Rutgers University in New Jersey voted unanimously to join the union. The Union Square election is slated for June 7. 

Unionized bookstores organized with RWDSU have previously negotiated for higher pay and benefits, more training, and other safety provisions like safe staffing levels, Connor said. If the drive does lead to an NLRB election — which could be scheduled for as soon as next month — only a simple majority among voters  is needed to approve unionization.