A growing unionization movement is afoot among booksellers and publishing workers across the country. On Wednesday, employees at Moe’s Books joined their ranks, announcing that they have formed a union and joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Twenty of the Berkeley, Calif.-based bookstore’s 21 employees have signed on. The union was immediately recognized by store owner Doris Moskowitz.
Moe Moskowitz opened the store in 1959. It has long been helmed by veteran booksellers, some of whom have worked there for four decades. But during the pandemic, bookseller Noah Ross said some booksellers departed, and newer employees were hired. When employees proposed ideas for how the store should reopen to foot traffic, Ross said their requests were not heeded by management.
With unionization, Ross hopes the booksellers will be able to bargain effectively with one voice. “I think the union will be very positive for the store overall,” he said. “We’re doing this because we love Moe’s.”
In a statement, the union said, “The most immediate goal of the Moe’s Books union will be to get fair and equal input on the formation and enforcement of safety protocols, without fear of dismissal or retaliation.”
Doris Moskowitz welcomed the effort by her employees. "Unionization is an opportunity for Moe's Books," she said. "We are entering into negotiations with our current staff to establish a union workplace where worker concerns are heard and responded to. We recognize that health concerns are an issue, and we're working with front-line staff on that."
"Moe Moskowitz, my dad, was proud of his own radical history and tried to create jobs that people really liked to do," she said. "I hope that we can continue this tradition going forward."
Moe’s booksellers made an unsuccessful attempt to unionize 10 years ago. This time, they sought advice before taking any steps to organize, reaching out to fellow booksellers at Bookshop Santa Cruz and Elliott Bay Book Company, both of whom unionized in the last year. The ultimately selected the IWW because it will allow them the flexibility to create their own contracts during negotiations with the bookstores. Currently a seven-member committee will run the union until it takes further steps to create a long-term structure.
The effort at Moe’s comes amid a broader movement in labor organizing among book workers nationwide. Employees at Verso recently unionized, while bookseller unions at the Strand Bookstore in New York City and Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, have actively worked to push back against cuts during the pandemic. Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama are also making an effort to unionize, which garnered support from President Biden.
At Moe's, Ross said book workers' efforts are understandable. “Booksellers are often underpaid and vulnerable,” he said. “The trade has long run on the idea that if you love books, you’ll put up with a lot of bullshit.”
But while the union begins to engage with management on serious workplace matters, they also asked customers not to take steps that will hurt the store’s bottom line. Moe's has to be open for there to be a union, Ross said emphatically. “The best way for you to support the Moe’s Books union right now is to come to Moe’s,” union members wrote in their statement. “[B]uy a book, and tell the staff how excited you are that they’re unionizing.”