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Borders revolutionaries, generous references to Iowa city, and union organizing

August 20, 2011

A fine piece of writing by Jonathan Gourlay. Do read.

I worked at the Starbucks inside a Borders (or was it Barnes and Nobles?) in Georgetown for about a month. I hated it. Georgetown yuppies care about the amount of foam on top of their cappuccinos to a ridiculous degree.  Everyone was rude — the customers, my co-workers, my managers. Enduring 4 to 8 hours of constant low-level of mean-ness sucked.  My best hour at work was the early morning shift, when no one else had come in yet, and only a few customers trickled in — they were usually chirpy, and usually ordered just coffee. It was the hateful assholes who would make me re-do their caramel macchiato that bore my silent (and sometimes not so silent) wrath.

Anyway.

Gourlay writes about their failed union organizing attempt at Borders over a decade ago. It is lovely and insightful. The excerpt below talks about Jackson Lewis, the law firm hired by Borders when talk of unions began.

The first salvo from the team of Jackson Lewis was a pizza party in the café. It was true that we could be lured pretty much anywhere by free pizza, especially if you paid us our hourly wage to eat it with you. By happenstance, Borders vice-president of human resources Anne Kubek was there to talk to us and address our gripes. A vice president? Now we felt very important. The VP had a kind face and a gentle demeanor. She told us that with a union between us we couldn’t have such nice chats in the future. Free pizza? Union won’t allow that. She could address our issues now, directly, like a family discussing problems over dinner. Would you invite a stranger to the table? And allow him to make decisions for you? No. No you wouldn’t.

A few days later, a professional masseuse arrived to work on our tired book-stacking shoulders during paid massage breaks. It was another of those little things that Borders could do for its workers. But with a union between the masseuse’s professionally sensual hands and our hard-working backs? No way.

The Borders management adopted the stance of a stricken dog. It was as if we had whapped them on the nose with a newspaper for no reason and they looked up at us with confused and soulful puppy eyes and asked: “Why? Why would you do such a thing?”

As  Gourlay tells us, VP Kubek goes on to (secretly) write a manual warning Borders about “union awareness”. Union Awareness for Borders Managers.

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