Half Price Books Workers Strike at Four Minnesota Stores
Unionized workers at a quartet of Half Price Book stores in Minnesota today walked off the job amid ongoing contract negotiations.
All four stores will be closed Thursday and Friday as a result of the strike.
At the start of 2022, workers at the four stores joined local chapters of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The Minnesota stores were the first Half Price Books locations in the nation to unionize. Four additional U.S. stores unionized after them.
In a news release issued Thursday, UFCW officials noted that they have a filed an Unfair Labor Practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The union alleges that Half Price Books management has failed “to provide crucial information to union representatives during the contract negotiation process.”
Precise details on the disagreement weren’t immediately clear on Thursday morning, though wages appeared to be a primary sticking point. In the news release, UFCW quoted an employee who said that Half Price Books “offered workers an offensive 1% wage increase while violating federal labor law in the process.”
“If Half Price Books wants its values to be anything more than a shallow punch line, then management should stop their hypocrisy and treat workers like family by providing us with real raises and the security a union contract provides,” said Hanna Anderson, who works at a Half Price Books store in St. Paul.
In a call with TCB, Anderson said that Half Price Books is offering the 1% wage increase in lieu of quarterly bonuses available to all employees. “If we take [the 1% increase], we would give up the profit-based quarterly bonuses,” she said. “We did the math and it turns out to be about a 4% raise each year with bonuses.”
Anderson said workers have also raised concerns about worker safety after the pandemic. “Covid definitely was very eye-opening,” she said. “We as workers started organizing in during summer of 2020 because we were just not feeling supported by the company in regard to both Covid safety and also dealing with disruptive customers.”
In an emailed statement, Half Price Books president Kathy Doyle Thomas said that the company “strives to provide competitive benefits and good working conditions for all of our employees across the country.” She declined to share specifics about the negotiating process, but noted that the retailer has “been a progressive workplace for all of our 50-plus years.”
In the wake of Covid-19, there has been significant momentum to organize workers within industries that historically haven’t had union representation. Workers in retail and hospitality, for instance, have attempted to organize to varying degrees of success. Employees at Minneapolis distillery Tattersall Distillery voted to unionize in 2021, for instance, while a similar vote failed at Surly Brewing Co.
After Half Price Books successfully organized in 2022, U of M professor Aaron Sojourner noted that “many jobs worsened in terms of working conditions during the pandemic, especially face-to-face service jobs.” As a result, more workers are looking “to claim more of the value that their jobs create,” he told TCB.