Management at Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books, both located in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, have voluntarily recognized the booksellers' union that formed about a week ago at the stores. Seminary Co-op Booksellers Union (SCBU) IU 660 is a branch of the Industrial Workers of the World international labor union, which was founded in Chicago in 1905, and joins Moe’s Books Union in Berkeley, Calif., as an affiliate of the union, which is famously nicknamed the Wobblies.

In a release, the Seminary Co-Op Bookstores managers noted that the board of directors supports their decision to voluntarily recognize the union, and that “we share this news in the spirit of joint commitment to these bookstores and the communities they serve.”

In their own release, organizers described the booksellers' motivations for unionizing as "straightforward. At the moment, and for all of the Co-op’s illustrious history, booksellers take home grossly less than they deserve. The highest-paid SCBU members earn $18.50 per hour, far below even our county’s modest living wage floor. The majority of members earn between $16.00 and $17.50 an hour, scarcely more than Chicago’s insufficient minimum wage." The union pledged to advocate for policies that "ensure a safe, secure, and welcoming workspace for current and future staff," and intends to demand "a louder voice in shaping the operational and financial strategy of our stores, at a time of both upheaval and opportunity in the world of book publishing and distribution."

In an email to PW this morning, SCBU IU 660 member Adam Doster emphasized: "the union's top priority is establishing, at minimum, a living wage for all non-salaried booksellers on staff, and that we look forward to our discussions and collaboration with management to make that a reality."

The announcement of the formation of the union comes five days after Jeff Deutsch, the executive director of the Seminary Co-op Bookstores for the past 10 years, unexpectedly stepped down from his position for personal reasons. While the board searches for an interim executive director, Noor Shawaf, who joined Seminary Co-op two years ago as director of events and finance, and managing director Clancey D’Isa, who launched her bookselling career in 2018 as manager of 57th Street Books, are serving as acting codirectors. The board intends to launch a search for a permanent executive director after soliciting input from Seminary Co-op Bookstores members.

The Seminary Co-op was founded as a member-owned cooperative in 1961 by five students attending the Chicago Theological Seminary. The Seminary Co-op is regarded as the more erudite of the two bookstores, specializing in scholarly tomes (the store is located in the same neighborhood as the University of Chicago) and small and independent press titles. Its sister store, 57th Street Books, which opened in 1983, carries a more general selection of books for adults and children.

This story has been updated.