MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — They sold Marxist literature but were fired for trying to unionize.
Book Culture, the independent bookstore near Columbia University, dismissed five employees Tuesday for voting in favor of joining a union.
“Your voting for the union after we have given the clear indication to you that our interests were in not having a union are at odds with this company. You are fired effective immediately,” co-owner Chris Doelin wrote in a email to former employee Kerry Henderson, which was shared with DNAinfo New York.
Henderson and the others said they believe the action was illegal and on Wednesday morning filed an unfair labor practice claim with the National Labor Review Board.
“I received a phone call from the owner asking me to check my email,” Henderson, 22, said. "It didn't hit me until today. I graduated from the New School a month ago and signed a new lease last week."
Book Culture maintains that the employees were managers and therefore not protected by law. They voted even though they were told that their position prevented them from doing so.
“There was nothing illegal,” co-owner Annie Hedrick said. “Some supervisors voted. They knew ahead of time that they weren’t able to vote.”
Because the two stores are very small, nearly half of the employees are managers. They don’t need a large work force but they do need managers on hand because of the long hours, Hedrick said.
Representatives from the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union claim it was a “cheap ploy” by Book Culture to fire employees for wanting to unionize.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Peter Montalbano, 31, of RWDSU. “What business has one manager for every employee?"
The fired employees supported unionizing because it would bring job security and help foster safe and open dialogue between them and the management. They hope filing the unfair labor practice claim gets them their jobs back.
“I grew up going to this book store,” said Elizabeth Heintges, 24, who was fired Thursday morning. “We said we wanted to stay in the store, that we loved working here but wanted to stay and be represented by the union. We were told there was no place for us.”
Although Book Culture management was opposed to its employees unionizing, they will support them.
“We look forward to working with the union to create a contract,” Hedrick said.