Borders Battle: Still No Contract

A year after employees of the Uptown Borders bookstore voted to join United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789, no progress has been made in negotiating a labor contract. Last week, 21 employees unanimously voted to reject Borders' most recent offer.

Despite at least 10 negotiating sessions since December, the notoriously anti-union corporation has refused to budge on any key provisions. Most significantly, Local 789 is seeking a living wage of $9.33 an hour for 21 workers. The union also wants Borders to offer benefits, such as health insurance and paid vacation, to part-time workers.

"It's Borders' tactic to allow an election to happen and then just kill them in the negotiations," says employee Jason Evans, a member of the union's bargaining committee. "They haven't really addressed the issues."

Under federal labor law, Borders is required to negotiate in good faith for at least one year. If no contract has been agreed to by then, workers can vote to decertify the union. Local 789 has attempted to increase the pressure on Borders by spreading the campaign to other area booksellers, but so far nobody has joined the fray.

Last month, employees at the Borders store in Gurnee, Illinois, rejected union representation by a vote of 17 to 9. The only other Borders outlet in the country that is organized is the flagship store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Last December, by a margin of 51 to 4, employees of that store voted for union representation. Since then, as in Minneapolis, contract negotiations have gone nowhere. Next week, the Ann Arbor employees are slated to vote on a contract proposal and also on whether to authorize a strike. Heidi Sherman, a pro-union employee, says the workers have no illusions about their ability to actually shut the Ann Arbor store down. "We know that the scabs are already mobilized so they'll be in there in a minute," Sherman says. "What we're looking to do is create a P.R. disaster."

Such tactics won't come to the Uptown store anytime soon. For now, Local 789 intends to return to the bargaining table. Despite heavy employee turnover at the store and the lack of progress in negotiations, Evans claims that support for the union remains strong. "I think the people here are willing to stick it out as long as it takes," he says.

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