The people, united, etc.

Amy writes: “Hey I keep reading about this Borders’ strike….where’s the first hand reporting???”

Well, that’s an excellent question.

Yes, workers at the original Borders, Borders No. 1, in downtown Ann Arbor, are on strike. They’re not trying to start a union, like they did in that Michael Moore movie — oh no, they already have a union. They’re striking over a lot of things, but the central complaint is — hold onto your hats — the big M. They want some more.

Well, so does everyone.

I admit to being mystified by some of this. Bookstore clerks want “a living wage” for the second-most expensive city in Michigan? I’m sure lots of people who work here would like that, including low-level instructors at the University of Michigan; the last story I read about grad-student instructors said they earn around $16K for their service, which puts my Russian teacher’s urgency to get his dissertation finished in a new light, I’d say.

The Borders workers say: If Borders is going to enjoy the reputation for service it has, and boy, it has both (service and the reputation), then management should pay their workers better. Admittedly, it is glorious to patronize a bookstore where the clerks not only know the inventory’s layout but the contents of the books themselves, where you can ask after an obscure title or author and not be greeted by a blank stare. If Best Buy is at one end of the scale (and we’ve all been to Best Buy), Borders No. 1 is the other.

“They have people working there who had advanced degrees,” an undergrad in one of my classes said. “Like, PhDs.”

I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is, it wouldn’t surprise me.

Some of the people working the floor at Border’s have been there for more than 15 years. And why not? It’s a lovely bookstore in a lovely town, patronized by people who are generally smart and eager readers.

I admit: I crossed the picket line once. (I had an urgent need for Junie B. Jones books and no time to drive to the east side B&N.) The strike must be working, because the store was nearly empty, and that store is never nearly empty. The new clerks, replacements from other stores, were polite and eager to serve, and let me leave through a rear entrance to avoid the picket line again.

I didn’t feel very bad about it. While I’m sympathetic to anyone who wants a living wage, perhaps these highly educated clerks would do better in a library somewhere. Living wage for retail clerks is simply not going to happen in this economy.

You can read more at the strike blog. I’d welcome comments from long-time A2 residents who know more about the store’s history, and that means you, Anne.

Posted at 8:08 am in Uncategorized |

10 responses to “The people, united, etc.”

  1. alex said on November 21, 2003 at 9:46 am

    Store Number One, according to a friend who’s a longtime manager with the company, is unique in all the nation. Clerks there get to sit on stools. They have all kinds of rights grandfathered in that no one enjoys anywhere else in the chain.

    My friend says sitting while working is against policy in his store. There’s always something to be done�books needing reshelved, so on. And in a large urban store like his�in Chicago�things get trashed pretty quickly.

    Nance, as I’ve shared with you before, unionization didn’t go over well in that store. Michael Moore pretty much orchestrated the foment for the purpose of his movie. The disaffected, overeducated employees who voted the union in were all gone within months. Their successors, who resented a huge chunk of their measly paychecks going toward union dues that got them nothing, voted the union out.

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  2. deb said on November 21, 2003 at 9:53 am

    ten bucks says you hear from a librarian or three regarding your suggestion that these underpaid clerks go work in a nice library somewhere. librarians are chronically underpaid. when i worked in indiana, half my male co-workers were married to or sleeping with librarians, and they were forever complaining about the lousy pay. you needed a master’s degree in library science to even THINK of moving up to a job beyond that of a glorified clerical worker, and even then the pay still sucked.

    i’d be interested to hear what they make now; i’m guessing things haven’t improved much. ours relies heavily on high school kids and college students to fill out the ranks.

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  3. Nance said on November 21, 2003 at 9:57 am

    Stipulated: Librarians are underpaid. I was just trying to think of a field where you’d get to do basically the same work but maybe make a lee-tle more dough.

    Although I’m sure we’ll hear from Miss Beth and Connie soon enough.

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  4. Randy said on November 21, 2003 at 10:03 am

    Deb mentioned her male co-workers that are either married to or sleeping with librarians.

    I didn’t know you could just *sleep* with a librarian – I figured you had to make an honest woman out of her.

    When did librarians get so promiscuous?

    Why didn’t I get a memo on this?

    Have a great weekend one and all.

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  5. Connie said on November 21, 2003 at 10:36 am

    Well, Nancy, that was a challenge. OK, come work for me here at the Elkhart Public Library. Full time clerk, no degrees required, your share of night and weekend shifts: starting pay around $20,000. Benefits are OK, health is paid only for employee. Your kids are eligible for Hoosier Care at that pay rate. Got a college degree and some good related experience (yes, including Border’s.)? Depending on the job you will start in the mid 20s. Got a librarian degree?: Entry level 33,000. Librarian Managers: 37,000. Managers with plenty of seniority are earning in the 50-60,000 range. Me? well, I am the boss, what can I say?

    I have over 100 employees, and those who are not Librarians are generally making in the high 20 to mid 30,000. Not a profession in which you will get rich. But it’s enjoyable work, around here you won’t make anymore than that doing factory work.

    Sorry, no openings at this time. And for the time being we will be requiring spanish bilingual skills for any of those lowest paid openings.


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  6. anne said on November 21, 2003 at 11:51 am

    I�m the long-time Ann Arbor-ite and this topic just reminded me that I need to think about whether or not to cross that picket line with the 20% discount �friends and family� coupon that a Border�s employee relative of mine emailed a while ago. She�s in �corporate�, so I doubt she�s striking.

    I�m afraid I don�t have any interesting opinions about the whole thing. Yes, Borders reputedly hires people with advanced degrees and it has always been a fun place to shop, although I don�t go near it at times when I think it�ll be crowded. If anything, it�s amazing that the place hasn�t been degraded by the huge expansion the company has been through in the last 20 years or whatever. Not all employees are equal though and over the years, I�ve run into one or two employees who were decidedly unhelpful and not even nice. My relative once said, �you know, you can complain about him.� Hint, hint, we want to get rid of him too. (I didn’t. He’s still there, I think.)

    But all I�m going to do is watch, which is what I usually do when there�s some kind of local conflict going on that doesn�t affect me in an immediate way (well, except for the coupon). There is always something happening around here to get people clanked up.

    I have quite a few librarian friends around the A2-Ypsi area and I would certainly agree they are underpaid. But probably not as underpaid as theatre guild managers.

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  7. miss beth said on November 21, 2003 at 3:00 pm

    What Connie said sounds about right…and I’m looking to get that stupid piece of paper known as the MLS next month. Which means from now on, I get to check “$30,000” on a goddamn survey for the first time in my life. Woo-hoo! And to Randy: you’re not meeting the right librarians…trust me on this one.

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  8. elaine said on November 21, 2003 at 6:41 pm

    Having worked in both union and non-union libraries (yes, there really ARE unionized libraries!), I can tell you that there are benefits and pitfalls on both sides. One thing’s for sure, unionized libraries, with their substantially higher salaries get to pick the cream of the crop for job applicants. Most librarians – promiscuous or not – will do anything short of voodoo to score a high-paying job. And if it came to using voodoo, we could do it, as we know where to look it up…

    Really, Randy, sorry you didn’t get that memo. Miss Beth’s right.

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  9. KCK said on November 22, 2003 at 1:00 am

    Miss Beth and Elaine are getting me so excited; I just love naughty librarians.

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  10. Connie said on November 22, 2003 at 8:55 am

    In my previous library director gig in Rochester Minnesota my staff was unionized and much better paid. Entry level non degree clerk around $27,000. They were very highly sought after jobs, and we generally filled them with someone transferring from a different city job. Of course in Minnesota it seemed like everyone was better paid. Which was probably why drycleaning cost me 3 times what it has cost me anywhere else.

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