Story at a glance
- Union activity has spiked among bookstore workers since 2020.
- Unionized workers have been able to secure safer working conditions and earn higher wages on average than their non-unionized peers.
- While the majority of Americans support labor unions, a small percentage of workers actually belong to one.
Unions were once rare in bookselling, but pandemic job loss and safety concerns have motivated workers at bookstores across the country to organize.
“I think COVID-19 was a rude awakening for bookstore workers, and really anyone who works with the public,” Owen Hill, a buyer at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, Calif., which unionized earlier this year, told The Associated Press. “We were given no say regarding safe working conditions, even though we were risking our health by showing up for work. We had to organize in order to be a part of the conversation around worker safety.”
Unionized workers during the pandemic have been able to secure enhanced safety measures, premium pay, and a say in the terms of any future furloughs or workshare arrangements, according to a report published last year by the Economic Policy Institute.
Workers covered by a union contract also earn on average 11.2 percent more in wages than their non-unionized peers in the same industry and with similar education and experience, the report found.
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According to a 2020 Gallup poll, 65 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, the most since 2003, though only about 10 percent of workers belong to one. Current labor laws make it difficult for workers to unionize, illustrated in part by Amazon’s anti-union response toward workers organizing in Bessemer, Ala. earlier this year.
The White House in March issued a statement backing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would enable more workers to form a union, obtain collective bargaining rights, and exercise their right to strike without unjust retaliation from their employers.
“With the pandemic going on, we all were just weary of the constant dismissals we got when we raised concerns about staffing and workload to upper management,” Britt Larson, a shift leader at Half Price Books in Minnesota, told the AP.
“Before the pandemic, I’d say we would have kind of just thought ‘Things aren’t great’ because it was all we had ever known,” she added. “The pandemic forced us to do some things differently and we learned from that.”
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