After 62 days, two rallies, and 28 votes, Bookshop Santa Cruz employees are some of the first retail workers to have a labor union in downtown Santa Cruz. 

The workers of Bookshop Santa Cruz passed their unionization election on Feb. 3, and will begin bargaining their first contract. The workers are now members of the Communications Workers of America’s (CWA) regional chapter CWA Local 9432. This gives Bookshop employees greater resources and assistance in the bargaining process. 

Union organizer and Bookshop worker Celeste Orlovsy spoke about the goals of the union at a rally of over 50 people in front of the shop on Feb. 6. 

“We have 13 points on our mission statement. Some, like just-cause [firing], are standard in any union contract. Some are ideological, like ‘cops out of shops.’ We feel that there is a better system for our store that does not rely on the broken and highly prejudiced American police system,” Orlovsky said. “Some are necessary for our survival at the store — health and safety during a deadly pandemic, or guaranteed semi-annual raises to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the country.”

This first contract will set the tone for future negotiations between Bookshop management and its workers. One contract priority is just-cause firing, which means employees cannot be fired without a legitimate reason. If an employee believes they have been fired unjustly, they can sue for wrongful dismissal. Other contract priorities include improved scheduling, de-escalation training, clearly outlined roles, and corresponding consistent pay. 

These priorities may change after local union leadership surveys Bookshop workers and their interests in the coming weeks. The survey will tell CWA negotiators what to prioritize in contract negotiations. 

Of the 31 eligible employees, 18 voted in favor of unionizing, while 10 voted against it and three abstained. 

Democratic Socialists of America Santa Cruz co-chair and organizer Sarah Mason feels confident in the union’s ability to negotiate a fair first contract between workers and management.

“The things they are fighting to win are demands that are broadly supported,” Mason said. “We have every reason to believe a strong unionization campaign will become a strong first contract fight.” 

After the vote, Bookshop Santa Cruz owner Casey Coonerty-Protti spoke to multiple other owners of unionized bookstores to get a sense of what to expect, though she chose not to comment on what was discussed. Overall, she is confident that negotiations will not drastically change how the store functions. 

“I truly believe we have shared values. Whether it be the role of selling books in a community…to supporting our staff in their jobs, and especially in COVID, as well,” Protti said. “So my hope is that we can still share those values and come to mutually agreed upon policies and procedures and in a structure that leaves us in a good place, coming out the other side of this thing.”

Unionization efforts were initially met with some online pushback from local residents. One sentiment was that a union could hurt or even close Bookshop Santa Cruz by demanding wages too costly for a small business in the midst of a pandemic. Critiques on social media confused members of the Union

“I don’t know why people think we want to close the store, we want to keep our jobs,” Orlovsky said. “The Bookshop is a great place to work…People think that we’re really unhappy or really angry…There’s a difference between being nice and doing what’s right.” 

The local fight for unionization is not an isolated event. Only about 11 percent of wage and salary workers in America are unionized. And in the retail industry, only 5.1 percent of employees were unionized in 2020.  

“Our hope is that this will inspire other service and retail workers downtown, to get organized. Because the issues that workers at Bookshop are dealing with are not unique to Bookshop workers,” Mason said. “These are issues that all service and retail workers are having to deal with.”