The Strand Book Store’s union forcefully denounced the firing of 12 booksellers who were only recently rehired after mass layoffs during the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in March. In a statement issued by the UAW Local 2179, booksellers took aim at owner Nancy Bass-Wyden, accusing her of a “long-standing pattern of wanton disregard for the physical, mental, and financial well-being of her employees.”
188 Strand booksellers were laid off in March, including 170 union members, but when the iconic New York bookstore reopened to in-store shopping on June 22, the union said, Bass-Wyden rehired more than 30 union workers. According to the union, that number grew to 45 by July 6—but one day later, a dozen of the newly-returned employees were told to pack their bags.
“We were honestly too optimistic about reopening. We wanted to welcome our community and our booksellers back, but the harsh reality is that the foot traffic is non-existent," Wyden wrote in an email to PW. “We’ve had to reduce our hours and are refocusing our energy on our website to drive sales.”
The firings are part of a growing rift that has widened in recent months amid disclosures that provide a glimpse of Bass-Wyden’s personal and professional financial decisions. Filings made by Bass-Wyden’s husband, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), revealed that she had purchased more than $115,000 of Amazon stock in April and May. The disclosure surprised many, even spilling into a wider discussion among booksellers about conflict-of-interest at the American Booksellers Association’s annual town hall forum last month.
Recently disclosed Payroll Protection Plan loan information provided by the Small Business Administration shows that the bookstore also received $1-2 million in government assistance. In its statement, the union inferred that the bookstore had overstated the number of employees who remained on payroll in its application to the SBA. The Strand has not offered comment on the number of employees laid off, and the union’s allegation about staffing levels could not be independently confirmed.
For its part, the union contends that “Bass-Wyden’s actions demonstrate her refusal to confront the new reality that exists in NYC and the United States.” Bass-Wyden argues otherwise, saying she remains focused on keeping the store afloat through an unparalleled set of challenges. “We hope our community will continue to support us,” she said, “and keep New York’s indie bookstores alive."