Bookshop Santa Cruz workers rally as owner responds to unionization effort
Looking for better communication on COVID-19 protocols and wages more in line with Santa Cruz affordability, workers are asking owner Casey Coonerty-Protti to accept their unionization effort. So far, she isn’t.
Bookshop Santa Cruz employees rallied for higher wages and better working conditions in downtown Santa Cruz on Friday evening as the owner of the 54-year-old institution refused — for now — to formally recognize their efforts.
Twenty-seven non-management employees on Thursday evening submitted a “mission statement” to Casey Coonerty Protti requesting voluntary recognition of their effort to join Communication Workers of America Local 9423.
But Coonerty Protti said in a long letter posted on Facebook Friday that she would not support that effort, setting the stage for the workers to organize through the National Labor Relations Board. That process likely will take weeks.
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“Of course, Bookshop Santa Cruz will abide by any vote of our workers in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board for a unit determined appropriate by the NLRB,” Coonerty Protti wrote. “Bookshop Santa Cruz considers it important that eligible employees are allowed to freely exercise their right to make that decision by voting in an election conducted by the NLRB.”
Contrary to a report in the Santa Cruz Sentinel that said the workers had formally unionized, bookseller and union organizer MJ Jennings clarified Friday night that efforts to form a collective bargaining unit are ongoing. “Casey has the option to sign the mission statement at any time. We’re hoping that’s the case; it would be so much easier for all of us,” Jennings said. “We’re working closely with CWA on it. We know it can take a really long time.”
About 50 people joined the workers outside the store as dusk fell. Santa Cruz City Council member Sandy Brown was among those to speak.
“It went great. A great turnout,” Jennings said. “There was a really great sense of community and support for the store.”
Bookshop Santa Cruz employees aren’t alone in seeking union representation amid the pandemic. Publishers Weekly recently reported on how bookstore workers at well-known shops on the West Coast and elsewhere have worked out collective bargaining agreements with bookstore owners.
In her Facebook Post, Coonerty Protti emphasized the hard work it’s taken to keep her business up and running during the pandemic.
“We are proud that through the entire pandemic period we never laid off an employee, we did not reduce hours or wages, we increased benefits and provided hazard pay when we obtained Federal PPP funding,” she wrote. “We also are proud that we not only met CDC and County Health Guidelines in terms of safety protocols but exceeded them.”
“We are the first to admit that there are challenges to creating a great workplace, especially as an independent bookstore working on the slimmest of margins and in the midst of crisis,” she added. “We are constantly working with staff to identify structural deficiencies in the organization that are in need of attention and improvement.
Bookshop workers’ primary ask of the shop centers on better wages and improved coronavirus protocols.
“Bookshop Santa Cruz workers, who are not currently offered health insurance by their employer, have concerns about the management’s inconsistent communication regarding health and safety at the store, as well as concerns about the rising cost of living in Santa Cruz and the sustainability of the store,” their mission statement reads.
Jennings said the non-managerial staff consists of floor booksellers like herself, warehouse workers and used book sales personnel. She said the effects of 2020 — high turnover of staff, some leaving due to health concerns and personal budget constraints — set the unionization effort into motion.
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“It’s been a really challenging year for a lot of us and, while we are paid a good wage, it’s not a living wage by Santa Cruz standards,” she said. “We just see this as a natural next step to having our voices heard.”
Jennings said the ultimate goal is a mutual agreement that works for both sides.
“I think it’s really hard to be a small business in a pandemic,” she said. “We hope to collaborate with management to create a sustainable path forward for one of the only independent bookstores in the area.”
Here’s the full mission statement presented to Casey Coonerty Protti:
Dear Casey Protti,
We, the unrepresented employees of Bookshop Santa Cruz from the following departments: Floor (booksellers, including kids booksellers, web-orders team, magazines), Used (including curbside), Warehouse (shipping & receiving, including remainders), Sidelines (including calendars) have decided to form a union to represent ourselves regarding issues of equitable wages, job security, health and safety, improved benefits, and scheduling. Our issues include but are not limited to:
- Just Cause: no more at-will employment
- Guaranteed semi-annual raises and cost-of-living adjustments
- Increasing base wage to Santa Cruz living wage
- Pay transparency for all Bookshop employees
- Dedicated uninterrupted paid time for section work and professional development
- Option to have health insurance, including mental health insurance
- Reevaluation of health & safety procedures
- Paid time off for part-time and full-time employees
- Seniority in scheduling and preferential rehiring in cases of lay-offs or leaves of absence
- Improved scheduling procedures
- Limiting the reliance on Santa Cruz Police Department
- De-escalation training for all staff
- Tangible anti-racist procedures and actions
United together, we, the employees of Bookshop Santa Cruz, with our union Communications Workers of America Local 9423, look forward to open negotiations on how these issues will be addressed. Resolving these issues and others will not only be beneficial for our staff but also for Bookshop Santa Cruz customers and the community we serve. We ask that you voluntarily recognize us as a union so we can begin working in partnership toward better and more equitable working conditions at the Bookshop.
Here’s the full text of Coonerty Protti’s letter:
Dear Bookshop Community,
Yesterday, a portion of Bookshop employees announced their intention to form a union at Bookshop Santa Cruz. Of course, Bookshop Santa Cruz will abide by any vote of our workers in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board for a unit determined appropriate by the NLRB. Bookshop Santa Cruz considers it important that eligible employees are allowed to freely exercise their right to make that decision by voting in an election conducted by the NLRB. As a store with a 54 year legacy of progressive management, mission, and values, Bookshop will continue to be committed to sustainable business that values our employees and the community we serve.
Over the past year, we have faced an unprecedented economic, political, and health crisis that struck at the core of our business. This period served to create uncertainty and vulnerability for all of us as we navigated this scary time. Besides the very real health fears, uncertainty was created from losing over $1 million in sales, including being down 15-50% in revenue every month since the pandemic began. Through it all, we have committed ourselves to protecting the safety of our employees and our customers first and foremost while still working to employ our booksellers. We also strove to listen to our employee’s needs during this time and changed policies and procedures after getting feedback, to the betterment of everyone at Bookshop.
We are proud that through the entire pandemic period we never laid off an employee, we did not reduce hours or wages, we increased benefits and provided hazard pay when we obtained Federal PPP funding. We also are proud that we not only met CDC and County Health Guidelines in terms of safety protocols but exceeded them. A few examples include paying full wages for any staff (full or part time) who has any one symptom regardless of exposure so that they could stay home, notification all staff of potential exposure prior to a positive COVID test, and voluntarily reducing capacity to below retail guidelines before the stay at home order was put in place in Santa Cruz County. In addition, Bookshop Manager Casey Coonerty Protti has not taken a salary during the entire pandemic period, with the exception of the 8 weeks we had Federal PPP funding, in order to preserve bookseller jobs during this time. Casey also worked shoulder to shoulder with staff on the sales floor during shutdown and continuing into the summer, fall and winter.
Bookshop’s booksellers are the heart of the store—working tirelessly to share their passion for books and serve the community. This is particularly hard to do in such an expensive place to live. For the last 10 years, Bookshop made a commitment of putting our profits back into payroll and benefits for our staff which resulted in doubling our entry level wage during that time and ensuring our minimum wage was always well above state guidelines. Bookshop will continue to commit to this staff-first value as we know our staff deserves it and our community expects this in return for the patronage they give us.
We are the first to admit that there are challenges to creating a great workplace, especially as an independent bookstore working on the slimmest of margins and in the midst of crisis. We are constantly working with staff to identify structural deficiencies in the organization that are in need of attention and improvement. As we always have and even before this organizing effort, we listen to the needs and struggles of our employees and their ideas to improve their workplace and we encourage you to listen to their message as well. Bookshop is committed to always trying to improve, running the best independent bookstore we can for our community and for our hardworking staff. That includes finding a sustainable business model, supporting our employees, and meeting the needs of our customers.
Thank you for your patronage.
Casey Coonerty Protti, Owner, Bookshop Santa Cruz