Borders Books Draws Fire for Labor Practices

Patrons encouraged to boycott Boul Mich store

Labor activists and former employees of Borders Books are calling for a national boycott of the chain -- and have threatened pickets in nine cities to bring home their charges of unfair labor practices.

Borders Bookstores has two stores in the metropolital Chicago area, including a popular store and cafe on the city's high-rent north Michigan Avenue stretch near Chicago Avenue. Activists have not yet announced if the Michigan Avenue store will be among those to be picketed.

Activists say Borders stomps on workers' rights in a number of ways: the chain is paying employees at many stores $5.50 an hour -- less than the $6.00/hr. starting salary the chain offered employees five years ago; line staff have been harrassed and squeezed out for discussing pay differentials with other workers; and management has mounted fierce opposition tactics to union organizing drives that workers charge are unfair and illegal.

Pickets are already being held in several cities, where activists are demanding reinstatement for fired Center City Philadelphia union organizer Miriam Fried. In June, Borders General Manager Dave Stewart fired Fried after a spring organizing campaign in which she publicly criticized Stewart and others and demanded that Borders President Richard Flanagan explain how he could sleep at night. Employees have undertaken another organizing campaign in the area.

Workers at the Center City store start at a relatively "luxurious" wage of $6.25/hr.; and $6.00/hr. for temps.

"There is something a little surreal about a place that prominently displays copies of Up Against the Wal-Marts while instructing...workers [that they]

always have the option of getting a different job if they are unhappy with their pay," says Amy Menzer, a former Borders employee in Philidelphia (215-925-7616).

Menzer, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World -- the Wobblies -- says that one Chestnut Hill employee raised the issue of wages in the employee break room with a supervisor shortly after receiving a management memo that said any issues regarding pay differentials between stores were irrelevant, that questions about compensation should be directed to management and not discussed with fellow employees, and that employees could always look for work elsewhere. Because she raised these concerns in front of other employees (albeit in a free-speech area), she was promptly written up for disciplinary action. The worker has since quit and the IWW has filed a grievance with the NLRB on her behalf.

Company VPs have claimed that the "market" doesn't warrant larger employee raises and a boost in the starting salary.

An attempt to organize a union at a Philly store was narrowly defeated in March, and union drives with the UFCW, the IWW and others are occurring at a number of stores across the country, including in Ann Arbor.

Additional Contacts: email or for more info on organizing campaigns and pickets in Chicago and elsewhere.

Philly IWW: (215) 724-1185

"Friends of Borders Workers and Miriam Fried": (215) 925-7616.

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