Supporters rallied in December for Bookshop Santa Cruz unionization, which formally happened on Wednesday.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Local Business

Workers at iconic Bookshop Santa Cruz vote to unionize

Employees at Bookshop Santa Cruz voted by a count of 18-10 to joined the Communications Workers of America. Now, they enter into contract negotiations with Bookshop for a long-term contract

Workers at Bookshop Santa Cruz, one of the city’s iconic businesses, voted to unionize on Wednesday, joining the Communications Workers of America and forming CWA Local 9423.

The new union will now represent 31 employees at Bookshop. Celeste Orlosky, a member of the union’s organizing committee, said that employees voted 18-10 to form the union.

Once the vote is certified, the new union will enter into negotiations for a long-term contract, which could take weeks, if not months. Among the issues the workers have expressed to Bookshop management to negotiate are wages, health-insurance options, time off, scheduling and operations.

“I know that negotiations like this can take a long time,” said Orlosky, “but we’re hoping to expediently and efficiently get to a contract we can both be happy with.”

Members of the new union will gather for a celebratory rally on Saturday at noon in front of the bookstore on Pacific Avenue. On Wednesday, the new union received congratulations from several other unionized bookstores across the country including The Strand in New York, Green Apple Books in San Francisco, and Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle.

Casey Coonerty Protti, Bookshop’s owner/operator said of the vote, “I look forward to good-faith bargaining to ensure that both Bookshop employees and the business not only survive, but thrive.”

It is the first time in Bookshop’s 55-year history that workers have voted to unionize. Union spokesperson Orlosky said that the union could be a marketing boon for Bookshop.

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“I was outside earlier talking to people in the street,” she said. “I had one person tell me he was even more excited to shop at Bookshop now that it was a union shop.”

Protti said that she is hopeful that Bookshop can make the transition with minimal disruption to the bookstore’s day-to-day operations.

“I have to imagine we’re interested in finding mutually agreed-upon ways to meet the needs of our staff,” said Protti, “and they have an incentive not to bargain us out of business. So, I’m not anticipating that this is the end of Bookshop. This is just a new chapter.”

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.

The union’s formation also comes as all businesses, including bookstores, have faced hard times amid the pandemic.

Manhattan’s legendary, nearly century-old bookstore the Strand announced in October that the store’s revenues were down 70% and its cash reserves were depleted. In an unprecedented move, the store’s owners appealed to the public to come to its rescue.

In Paris, the Left Bank bookshop Shakespeare & Co. found itself in the same boat as the Strand, and also had to appeal to its customers for a lifeline. In spring 2020, San Francisco’s beloved City Lights bookstore had to close its doors temporarily and then turned to crowd-funding to keep from closing permanently.