Booksellers at the Los Angeles independent bookstore Skylight Books announced on Tuesday that they have unionized. The Skylight Booksellers Union is the latest in a spate of unionization efforts at indies across the West Coast, from Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Company to Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Calif.
In a letter to management, 17 booksellers named 12 issues they would like addressed, including regular meetings, guaranteed raises and salary adjustments, and equitable hiring practices.
The store's management immediately and voluntarily recognized the union and pledged to enter into negotiations to begin to address the issues raised by booksellers. General manager Mary Williams told PW that many of the employees grievances and concerns are valid after a year in which crises have placed unprecedented stress on frontline workers. "I'm optimistic," Williams said. "I hope that this can be a new era in collaboration. That's my dream goal."
The union also struck a hopeful tone in a statement. "We appreciate that our management elected to recognize our union voluntarily, and we hope they can serve as an example for managers of other workers who wish to exercise their right to organize," they wrote.
Skylight's union will be affiliated with the Communications Workers of America Union, an AFL-CIO affiliate with more than 700,000 members. At the time of publication, it was unclear whether Skylight management had recognized the union. Founded in 1996, the bookstore has been a prominent supporter of the city's local arts and culture scenes.
In a message posted to Instagram announcing the effort, the Skylight Bookseller Union honored fellow Skylight bookseller Ian Irizarry, who died last month. “[W]e wish we could share this day with him,” the union wrote. “Ian is remembered for his endless enthusiasm for Los Angeles, its arts culture, and the community that forms around it. This movement we’ve created together is from the same love for bookselling, our coworkers, and this community.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened bookseller awareness of longstanding labor issues in the industry that booksellers say have gone unaddressed, including at-will employment, low wages, and unsafe working conditions. In March, booksellers at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, Calif., formed a union, while unionized booksellers at the Strand in New York City and Powell’s in Portland have been locked in heated disputes with ownership.
This article has been updated with new information.