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West Hollywood's book soup unionizes

Employees at Book Soup, West Hollywood’s self-proclaimed ‘bookstore for the famous and the infamous,’ are embarking on a new chapter as union members.

Bookstore owner Vroman’s voluntarily endorsed an employee union last month, a major win for the dozen or so bookstores it represents.

At the forefront of employee demands are higher wages and more headcount. According to social media posts, their concerns include access for people with disabilities, a more equitable distribution of labor, more transparency in leadership and “democratic decision-making in the workplace.” The union is currently in negotiations.

“There were ongoing issues that weren’t addressed…and unions are our way of setting certain boundaries, which is healthy in any relationship,” said Book Soup senior supervisor and organization Commission member Audrey Kaufman said. “We have seen other independent bookstores in the region and across the country form unions around the same time. We have legal protection.”

A look inside Book Soup on the Sunset Strip.

(Jason Almond/Los Angeles Times)

In fact, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, unions have boomed in many industries, including bookstores, a workforce where unions were once a rarity. Bookstores like Portland’s legendary Powell’s and New York City’s The Strand have long been organized, but the unemployment, furloughs, bookstore closures and other hardships caused by the pandemic are putting a new generation of bookstores at risk. I urged you to organize a

Victor Serrano, coordinator for organizing communications workers in America’s Ninth District, of which the Booksoup union is a member, says unionization in small businesses such as independent bookstores is a relatively new phenomenon. said.

“Traditionally, unions never really organized the small ones, they were always the big ones. I am,” he said. He said that from his Amazon warehouse in Staten Island to hundreds of Starbucks stores and beyond, a national wave of unions was driven primarily by millennials and his Gen Z members. I added that there are ”

The pandemic is also a big factor. Operating a bookstore during COVID times raises questions about how to adequately protect “employee health and safety,” Serrano added, “many employees are doing more and doing more.” We want to be proactive,” he added.

In California, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Moe’s Books in Berkeley, and Skylight Books in Los Feliz are among the more recent unions. But workers in other sectors of the publishing industry also want better protection and benefits from their managers.

Last Wednesday, unionized employees at HarperCollins went on strike for a day, pressuring the publisher to accept new contracts that included higher wages and better family leave benefits. The contract with the union expired at the end of last year and the parties have yet to reach a new agreement.

Before the pandemic, Book Soup had about 25 part-time and full-time wait staff to help run the store, with at least six people expected to be on duty each day.

When the 2020 pandemic hit and forced non-essential businesses to close, many Book Soup employees were laid off or furloughed. When stores reopened at full capacity, most employees were not rehired or replaced. Six day laborers he was reduced to three or four, with more work per shift.

Julia Cowlishaw, CEO of Vroman’s and Book Soup, said staffing has changed to comply with safety rules and capacity limits, but added that staffing has increased as restrictions have eased.

Most current and former staff members spoke on condition of anonymity, but said management was initially reluctant to hire more people. When they started looking for new recruits, there were very few applicants. The Book Soup bookseller’s starting wage is $16.50 an hour, and the supervisor says he’s 25 cents higher, but that’s about to change with West Hollywood’s minimum wage hike that went into effect this month. The new provision will gradually increase salaries for hourly employees through July 2023, at which point they should be paid $18.77 an hour.

“We have been consistently committed to hiring since we reopened. Book Soup’s allotted payroll hours are on par with 2019,” said Kaurishaw, noting that they are understaffed due to the pandemic. Added. “Staffing challenges are not unique to Book Soup locations. We have adjusted the procedure to

Regarding the employee wage claim, Cowlishaw said, “There is a general shortage of workers and finding people with the aptitude, availability and flexibility needed to staff independent bookstores. It is difficult,” he said. Holliday raised his salary for the season by $2.

A man came out of the book soup.

Book Soup employees participate in a growing wave of small businesses, including unions, publishers and bookstores.

(Jason Almond/Los Angeles Times)

“Retail bookstores, especially independent bookstores, have always operated on very thin margins,” said Cowlishaw. “The last two years, like many, have been very difficult financially and operationally.”

Rumors of union formation began circulating in West Hollywood stores last summer, but the stress and turmoil of the holiday season prevented any action.

Current and former staff described a stressful work environment where low wages faced high inflation, and frequent turnovers and lack of clarity from management contributed to the volatile atmosphere.

Former Book Soup manager and bookseller Natalie Mattox says lack of communication is her main complaint. “They demanded changes and made assumptions about what was going on in stores, but they were rarely present to observe what was really going on.”

“Communication in times of change and uncertainty is always difficult,” said Cowlishaw. “We will do our best to listen, keep everyone updated, and address their concerns.”

On May 5, Book Soup workers publicly announced their intention to form a union. A month later, after they had applied for election and prepared for battle, the Vroman’s voluntarily recognized the union.

“We always say, ‘Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,'” Serrano said.

“We care about our colleagues at Book Soup,” says Kaurishaw. Became “