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barns and noble

Barnes & Noble Workers Organizing Union Drive For The Largest Bookstore Chain In The US 

Workers at Barnes & Noble, the largest bookstore chain in the US, are preparing for a nationwide union drive after six outlet stores voted to organize throughout the past year, according to reports

According to the workers, who are demanding better pay and working conditions, “many more” stores will move to unionize.

Locations that already have unionized have made multiple claims that management has delayed attempting contract negotiations, and James Daunt, the CEO, allegedly went on a months-long campaign to encourage employees not to vote in favor of organizing. 

“He would come in and essentially try to talk us out of unionizing. The big argument against us unionizing was it would make his life harder, which he would repeat several times. It wasn’t very successful,” said Jessica Sepple, a worker at Barnes & Noble’s flagship New York City store in Union Square.

Daunt disputed the claims of negotiating delays, and stated he agreed with the workers on “the fundamentals” of their demands while warning of “potential upsides and downsides to a union.”

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The store voted 76-2 in favor of unionizing last summer. Barnes & Noble has around 600 stores across the US. The business itself has been on a decline in recent years, and Daunt, who became CEO in 2019, has said he’s worked hard to turn around the business. 

Sepple said that their “purpose for unionizing is to get some recognition for the dignity of workers, and having sat at the table and currently in negotiations with Barnes & Noble, it is disappointing that Barnes & Noble has not treated this as if that dignity is deserved.”

Sepple also discussed that workers at the Union Square location have experienced lagging wages, safety concerns with ladders and general book storage, aggressive customers, and being given duties that the job initially did not entail, according to The Guardian

“If you’re good at your job, you’re just going to get more work. It takes a lot of knowledge, research, and a love of reading and books to make it happen, and oftentimes I’ve found the company tends to coast on that.”

In Brooklyn’s Park Slope, workers won a union election in July 2023. Sydul Akhanji, a worker at the store for two years, said he wants to work for the bookstore chain for a long time, but the low pay has been a major downside. He stated “if the company wants to build itself around knowledgeable booksellers, its workers need to be able to afford rent and food.”

Akhanji also alleged that Daunt attempted to deter the workers at Park Slope from unionizing. He claimed that the CEO “just went on and on about how it’d be hard and make all his plans complicated, if we unionized, and how he has a vision for us, so please, just don’t unionize right now.”

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Workers have also claimed that all contract negotiations are slowed down because executives are sending them to their company lawyers, who are typically not present during the discussions and negotiations. In some of the New York stores, management has been negotiating separately from the workers as well. 

“We live in the most expensive city in the country, and our starting wage until very recently was minimum wage, and it’s just not sustainable,” Esther Rosenfield, a barista at the Barnes & Noble in Manhattan, said.

Barnes & Noble workers in Bloomington, Illinois heard about the union voting in New York and decided to hold their own. In November, they unanimously voted to unionize. 

“James Daunt did a conference call to the store himself saying a vote for the union is a vote against him. The issues we’re facing are companywide. We’re all facing the same issues. If one small store in the midwest can unionize, then anyone can,” said senior bookseller, Zane Crockett.

Daunt stated: 

“My argument to the booksellers has been very simple: we have no disagreement with the fundamentals of what is being asked for, and indeed have pivoted the company precisely to achieve them. Only a successful business, after all, can deliver the investments necessary to improve pay and the physical condition of our stores.”

“In this endeavor, I see both potential upsides and downsides to the addition of a union. The most obvious potential upside is to have a clearer articulation of bookseller aspirations. Equally, there are potential downsides, notably if it causes unnecessary confrontation between ‘management’ and ‘workers’ and the fact that low-paid booksellers will have to pay significant dues to the union, all other things being equal reducing their pay.”

laid off

Bandcamp Lays Off Half Of Its Staff After Being Bought By Songtradr

The online music platform that is known for championing independent artists and labels, Bandcamp, has laid off half of its staff after the company was bought out by Songtradr, a music licensing startup. 

Songtradr wrote a statement confirming the purchase of Bandcamp from Epic Games last month: 

“This acquisition will help Bandcamp continue to grow within a music-first company and enable Songtradr to expand its capabilities to support the artist community.”

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Songtradr also announced the layoffs with the purchase of Bandcamp: “Over the past few years the operating costs of Bandcamp have significantly increased … After a comprehensive evaluation, including the importance of roles for smooth business operations and pre-existing functions at Songtradr, 50% of Bandcamp employees have accepted offers to join Songtradr.”

What this means is the remaining 50% of employees will not have their contracts renewed. 

Bandcamp was founded in 2007, and has been known as an online music store and community made up of more than five million artists and labels. The platform was acquired by Epic Games in March of last year. 

Bandcamp is also known for its support of underground unknown musicians, giving them a chance to reach more listeners and build a support network. Their editorial platform, Bandcamp Daily, also promotes music from “outside the mainstream.” In the entirety of the company’s lifespan, customers have spent $1.2 billion with an average of 82% of revenue going to artists and/or labels. 

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Bandcamp United, the company’s union, shared a statement online regarding the “heartbreaking” layoffs. 

“We love our jobs, the platform we’ve built, and the Bandcamp community. We’re glad we have our union – co-workers who have each other’s backs. We’ll be moving together to decide what our next steps are. On Wednesday we return to the bargaining table with Epic Games, and we’ll keep you updated.”

The union has also been trying to gain recognition from Songtradr. This month they also posted an online petition so they could begin negotiations with the new buyers to offer jobs to existing staff members. Two weeks before, Songtradr told the union they would not be extending job offers to all of Bandcamp’s staff. 

Songtradr was originally founded in 2014, and is a platform known for allowing musicians and publishers to upload music that can then be licensed by commercial spaces like brands and content creators. 

On the day that Songtradr purchased Bandcamp, Epic Games also announced they were laying off 16% of their global staff (around 830 individuals).

Teamsters President Gearing Up For Potential UPS Strike

Sean O’Brien, the president of the Teamsters Union, is gearing up for what could be the biggest, and costliest, strike from a single private employer in US history for UPS; the single largest employer within the Teamsters Union.

girl

Visual Effects Artists Speak Out Against Marvel Mistreatment 

Media outlets have reported first-hand accounts of individuals who have worked for Marvel’s visual effects department, stating that the company constantly had high demands and would overwork employees for little money to create the movie magic we’re all used to when we turn on a Marvel film. 

Dhruv Govil, a visual effects artist who worked on a handful of Marvel films, tweeted: “Working on Marvel shows is what pushed me to leave the VFX industry. They’re a horrible client, and I’ve seen way too many colleagues break down after being overworked while Marvel tightens the purse strings.”  

“The issue is Marvel is too big, and can demand whatever they want. It’s a toxic relationship.” 

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An anonymous visual effects artist told New York Magazine’s Vulture site:  “When I worked on one movie, it was almost six months of overtime every day. I was working seven days a week, averaging 64 hours a week on a good week. Marvel genuinely works its workers really hard. I’ve had co-workers sit next to me, break down and start crying. I’ve had people having anxiety attacks on the phone.”

Joe Pavlo, an Emmy award-winning visual effects artist who worked on Guardians Of The Galaxy stated that working for the company was a “crazy mess.” 

“The visual effects industry is filled with terrific people with lots of goodwill who really care but, at the end of the day, there’s nothing in place when their backs are up against the wall and Disney is making crazy demands,” Pavlo told The Guardian

“All the goodwill in the world just evaporates when everything gets changed and they decide they’re replacing that character with a different actor or changing the entire environment – they’re now in a pizza restaurant instead of a cornfield. It can be that extreme at the very last minute,” Pavlo continued. 

“It can be characterized as bullying but filtered through multiple layers of management and supervisor and hierarchy. It’s not like the executive from Disney is grabbing someone and swearing at them or something like that. It’s more like an atmosphere where everybody feels like this is the most desperately important thing and, if we don’t do it, we’re all f*cked.”

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“The average artist doesn’t even have any contact with the clients. It’s really just the people at the producer and the supervisor level and then they pass it on to their crew. So you could say, oh, the supervisor’s a real bully, but actually it’s a knock-on effect and then the people who are the team leaders, once they can’t handle it, end up being bullies,” Pavlo exclaimed. 

“Bullying is a huge problem in our industry because everybody’s so desperate sometimes. It seems like there’s such a high level of stress and pressure on these jobs to complete on time, to change everything at the drop of a hat.”

Pavlo is also the chair of the animation and visual effects branch for Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theater Union (BECTU). 

“Disney-Marvel is very famous for wanting multiple versions running parallel so that they can decide what they want. A strong union would be able to reel that in a bit.

“If you imagine you get the art department to design a set, you wouldn’t get them to tear down the set and rebuild a completely different set 35 times. Because it’s digital, people don’t see it as the same thing but it is: it involves work and creativity and long hours. It doesn’t create itself,” Pavlo explained, adding that the recent union organizing efforts from Amazon and Starbucks workers have offered a “possible blueprint” for how VFX artists can follow suit. 

“Disney is going to have to utilize their visual effects teams more and they need to be compensated for their contribution and working conditions. Ultimately they’re going to get to that point but it takes one person like that article from Vulture to say, hey, it’s time for somebody to step in and protect this side of it, as have all of the other departments been protected as well.”

Blizzard Workers Create First Union At A Big U.S. Video Game Company

19 quality assurance workers at Raven Software, a division of American video game publisher Activision Blizzard, have successfully voted to unionize, marking the first labor union at a major U.S. video game company. Backed by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), three of the 21 total workers voted against the union.

Much of Raven Software’s work primarily comes on the numerous chapters of the renowned first-person shooter franchise “Call of Duty,” which includes “Black Ops Cold War,” “Warzone,” “Black Ops 2,” “Modern Warfare 3,” and “WWII.” Over the course of its history, “Call of Duty” has made more than $17 billion.

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The workers previously announced their intent to unionize back in December, which came days after Microsoft announced the purchasing of Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, one of the largest acquisitions in tech history. The workers had been on strike protesting the layoff of 12 contractors.

Speaking to TechCrunch at the time, Raven Software quality assurance tester Onah Rongstad stated the layoffs came after a five-week stretch of “overtime, consistent work.” That period of work, referred to in the industry as a “crunch,” can cause burnout and stress.

With the creation of the union — now known as the Game Workers Alliance — workers can now bargain with their employer to circumvent those crunches of unexpected layoffs. While Activision Blizzard spokesperson Jessica Taylor told The Verge the company respected the employees’ right to unionize, her choice words showed Blizzard has undeniable issues with the procedure.

“We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union. We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 Raven employees.”

Meanwhile, the Game Workers Alliance stated it hopes the unionization will serve as an inspiration to the growing movement of video game workers to “create better games and build workplaces that reflect our values and empower all of us.”

Along from “Call of Duty,” Activision Blizzard’s collection of premiere video game franchises include Diablo, Crash Bandicoot, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft, which possesses around 4.8 million users. Of course, the long-running and well-established properties fail to hide Activision Blizzard’s less-than-stellar history of employee treatment.

In July of 2021, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed suit against the company for 10 violations of state employment law. According to the DFEH, Activision Blizzard “discriminated against female employees in terms and conditions of employment, including compensation, assignment, promotion, termination, constructive discharge, and retaliation.”

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The DFEH also found that Activision Blizzard’s female employees were subjected to sexual harassment, while the company’s leadership failed to take action against or prevent the unlawful discrimination and harassment.

According to the lawsuit, among the harassment female World of Warcraft workers were forced to endure included unwanted advances from fellow male workers, derogatory comments about rape, and overall demeaning behavior.

Since that time, Activision Blizzard has attempted to polish its reputation and work environment by hiring 1,000 game testers as full-time employees — increasing the company’s workforce by 25% — along with boosting the minimum salary of those workers to $20 an hour.

Amazon

Historic Union Vote For New York Amazon Workers Is Just The Beginning

In a recent interview, The Teamsters’ new president said that organizing Amazon is “vital,” as the company has “total disrespect” for its workers and their efforts to unionize to better protect their rights as employees. 

Major Hollywood Union Votes To Ratify Contracts For Better Streaming Payments

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), a major Hollywood union, have ratified their new film and TV contracts this week after six months of contentious negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). LA locals rejected the deal in a popular vote. 

“From start to finish, from preparation to ratification, this has been a democratic process to win the very best contracts,” said IATSE International President Matthew Loeb in a statement today. 

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“The vigorous debate, high turnout, and close election, indicates we have an unprecedented movement-building opportunity to educate members on our collective bargaining process and drive more participation in our union long-term.”

AMPTP released a statement as well, stating: “We congratulate IATSE President, Matt Loeb, the IATSE Bargaining Committee and Board for their leadership in achieving ratification of the new contracts. Throughout the negotiations, IATSE leadership advocated changes to improve quality of life for those they represent. These agreements meaningfully reflect the industry’s endorsement of those priorities and keep everyone working.”

The union uses an electoral college system for ratification votes such as this one. During this particular vote, 359 (56%) voted in favor compared to 282 (44%) who voted against it out of 641 total delegate votes; the votes were taken from 36 local unions nationwide that were eligible.

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The Basic Agreement was rejected in the popular vote with 49.6% voting yes to 50.4% voting no. Overall 50.3% voted yes to 49.7% voting no for both contracts. In the end, “72% of the 63,209 eligible members cast digital ballots this weekend,” according to IATSE.

According to media reports, “there were actually two separate contracts that were ratified: the Basic Agreement, which covers 13 Hollywood locals, and the Area Standards Agreement, which covers 23 locals outside of Los Angeles.”

“For the LA centric Basic Agreement, the vote was 256 voting for the deal that IATSE made with the AMPTP last month, yes to 188 no. In regards to the non-LA based Area Standards Agreement the yes vote was 103 to 94 no votes for the more recent deal,” according to Deadline. 

“Our goal was to achieve fair contracts that work for IATSE members in television and film—that address quality-of-life issues and conditions on the job like rest and meal breaks. We met our objectives for this round of bargaining and built a strong foundation for future agreements,” Loeb stated. 

Amazon Using ‘Fake’ Twitter Accounts To Defend Working Conditions 

Amazon has received a slew of criticism within the past year of the pandemic due to the harsh working conditions their warehouse/lower level employees have had to endure at the sake of their own health and safety. Now, a surge of “fake” Twitter accounts have emerged to defend the corporation and push back on criticisms presented during the pandemic. 

Many of the accounts are meant to be Amazon warehouse employees who love working for the company and believe Unions aren’t actually helpful. A majority of the account handles begin with “AmazonFC” followed by the first name of the “employee” and warehouse designation. The accounts often only tweet about Amazon in response to criticism and refute any tweets claiming the company enforces “robotic” working conditions that lead to “high injury rates.” 

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One account, which has since been suspended, tweeted: “Unions are good for some companies, but I don’t want to have to shell out hundreds a month just for lawyers!”

This is not the first time Amazon has used social media to try to combat criticism. Many Amazon employee accounts from 2018 and 2019 have since been deleted due to exposure. Amazon did confirm, however, that the latest tweets being spread online were fake. 

“Many of these are not Amazon FC Ambassadors – it appears they are fake accounts that violate Twitter’s terms. We’ve asked Twitter to investigate and take appropriate action.” 

The spokesperson for Amazon who released the statement above refused to acknowledge how many Twitter accounts were run by real Amazon ambassadors and how the company regulates fake accounts. Bellingcat is an investigative journalism site that compiled a list of at least 56 Amazon Ambassador Twitter accounts. 

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Some of the accounts only recently became active and were almost immediately suspended by Twitter. Some Twitter users have even created their own parody accounts to make fun of the corporation’s attempt at combating criticism. 

Recently, Amazon CEO Dave Clark and the official Amazon News Twitter account criticized Senator Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Congressman Mark Pocan over certain policies. Those tweets backfired for Amazon after it was revealed that Amazon engineers flagged the tweets because they were concerned that they were “unnecessarily antagonistic which would risk Amazon’s brand reputation.” 

Other leaked memos that initially sparked these fake Twitter accounts cited complaints from Amazon managers over delivery truck drivers leaving bottles of their urine and bags of their feces in trucks, despite the fact that Amazon’s PR account claimed all reports of workers needing to urinate in bottles to keep up with their workload was false. 

The National Labor Relations Board is also currently determining “whether to consolidate multiple complaints from workers over the past year alleging interference from Amazon against workers’ attempts to organize or form a union,” according to the Guardian.

Rugby

Rugby Players’ Association Fearful For Sports Future Amid Growing Covid-19 Concerns 

Damien Hopley is the chief executive of the Rugby Players’ Association and he recently spoke with the press about his immense desire to protect his members’ livelihoods as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on the world. According to Hopley, “the foundations of sport have been completely rocked and we’re now in a position where we’re starting to understand the real impact.”

The way the Covid-19 pandemic is projected to keep growing has Hopley worried about the financial impact playing for crowdless stadiums will have on not only the players’ incomes, but the rest of the association as well. Rugby especially hasn’t received any government assistance when it comes to making up for the financial loss of playing a sport without a crowd. 

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Rugby in general is also a sport that’s had to fight to be taken seriously, and after 25 years of work to “build a viable professional structure,” Hopley is worried it will all be diminished in a matter of months thanks to Covid-19. He referred to it as a “typhoon sweeping through the sport.” 

“When Rugby club owners’ businesses start being affected as adversely as they have been, there’s a seismic issue. A lot of players are getting nervous about what the future holds. No one can look into a crystal ball and say where it is going to end up, hence the call for government support.”

There’s already been a significant cut to many players’ salaries, and Hopley is worried that these drops will cause more and more players to leave the league and leave it completely void of talent. The association itself has a multitude of wealthy investors who have always been inspired by the sport, however, it’s hard to get players to want to stick around for a sports future that may or may not exist. 

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As a players’ union the ultimate goal is to keep everyone employed, and protecting those jobs as well. Right now the biggest concern is over the amount of jobs available and which ones will be terminated as the pandemic continues. If fans aren’t able to come back and pay for the games that they normally enjoy, the impact on the sport could be devastating. 

Hopley claims that even if there is some sort of financial bailout, at this point the players’ association has endured “irreversible damage” due to the looming dark future and already massive pay cuts some individuals have seen; some players have received cuts up to 25%. 

“Communities rely on their local rugby club as a beacon of hope and inclusivity. You just hope that with common sense and social distancing people can return, revenues can start to trickle in and a bit of confidence will come back. The bottom line is we all want to see the game surviving.”

The regular Premiership season is still in the midst of concluding and as four teams remain fans are eager to see which of the Bath, Wasps, Sale, or Bristol teams will be eliminated next. The Wasps’ win on Monday has elevated them to a second place position where they will aim to take the gold this upcoming Sunday. 

Bath will have to win as well to qualify by virtue as well, and based on if they win or not they could knock out either Sale or Bristol for the final game.

Business people putting their hands together

Kickstarter Workers Make Historic Vote To Unionize

Kickstarter is one of the most well-known tech companies out there. They were one of the original businesses to create a platform for individuals who needed funding for whatever projects life threw their way. Users have used the website to raise money for surgery, travel funds, textbook payments, charities, and more. Now, Kickstarter is setting yet another precedent for the tech industry this week after employees voted to unionize on Tuesday (2/18), making them the one of the only companies in their field to do so. 

The National Labor Relations Board held the election this week in which the workers won the unionization vote by a margin of 46 to 37. The passing vote states that Kickstarter’s employee’s will now be affiliated with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU). This partnership is between the OPEIU and unionizes 85 employees of all sorts including engineers, analysts, designers, and customer support. 

“Kickstarter employees felt their employer, a public benefit corporation, should live up to the foundational progressive values it espouses by ensuring trust and transparency from management, guaranteeing equal pay for equal work, implementing more inclusive hiring practices and giving employees a voice in the decision-making process,” OPEIU said in a statement.

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While Kickstarter has become one of the first ever tech unions in the United States, the move itself wasn’t surprising, as employee’s have been quite public about their discontent with their employers for several months now. Back in September the company fired two employees both of which claimed that their termination was in direct connection to their unionization efforts, a claim Kickstarter has since denied.

Kickstarter also had to give a detailed documentation of events that led up to the two employees terminations to the National Labor Relations Board, those reasons have not been made public, however. But besides that initial incident, corporate heads from Kickstarter have been otherwise supportive of their employees this week as their union dreams have come into fruition. 

“We support and respect this decision, and we are proud of the fair and democratic process that got us here,” Kickstarter CEO Aziz Hasan claimed after the vote was finalized. 

“This is a sign, loud and clear, that it’s possible to organize tech. Workers in tech want the same agency union workers have won for decades. Nothing is really new, tech is just joining history and proving we’re not an exception,” Clarissa Redwine, one of the fired employees stated.

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As Redwine stated, this is a huge move for the tech industry as a whole, as no company as large as Kickstarter has ever been able to successfully unionize despite the concerns from individuals on the corporate end of things. Workers from all sorts of major tech companies, such as Google and Amazon, have been increasing their overall efforts to unionize within the past few years. 

Claims of sexual harassment, and complaints regarding company impact on the environment have fueled the employee fire for change. However, with companies as large as Google or Amazon, it can be nearly impossible for workers on the ground level to make a real impact without succumbing to the pressure of intimidation and corporate jargon. Lucky for them, The National Labor Relations Board doesn’t take to kindly to wealthy employers restricting their workers rights all in the name of saving a few dollars from their multi-million dollar paychecks. In fact, the NLRB has already opened an investigation against Google after four terminated employees stated they were fired for speaking out against company practices. Amazon is being investigated for the same type of situation involving five employees. 

So while the creation of a union may not seem like a huge deal, in America, and in the tech industry especially, worker rights are often overlooked, so having official employee protections guaranteed is a huge deal. Kickstarter was able to do the impossible and, hopefully, inspire more tech corporations to treat their employees for what they are, hard-working, dedicated, passionate people just trying to make a real honest living; isn’t that the American dream?