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Sex-Toy Shop Workers Getting Raises Under Union Contract

By Leslie Albrecht | February 13, 2017 3:41pm
 Workers at Babeland's three New York City stores will get raises and other workplace improvements under a newly ratified union contract.
Workers at Babeland's three New York City stores will get raises and other workplace improvements under a newly ratified union contract.
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Babeland

PARK SLOPE — Employees at a neighborhood sex-toy shop will have an extra sweet Valentine's Day — they're getting raises and other workplace improvements under a newly signed union contract.

Workers at New York's three Babeland shops will receive three pay hikes over the next 10 months, and more employees will get health insurance and 30-plus hour work weeks under a contract ratified Monday, officials with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and Babeland announced.

The agreement is the first union contract that includes "added safety and security trainings and protocols to protect Babeland's predominately LGBTQ and women workforce in this highly emotionally intimate industry," officials said.

Workers requested de-escalation training so they would be better equipped to handle customers who sometimes act inappropriately at the store, which sells vibrators and other bedroom equipment and provides workshops such as "Oral Sex for Everyone."

"The provisions negotiated in this contract sets a standard for protecting LGBTQ workers in this and many workplaces across the country,” said RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum. "I am proud of the Babeland workers and their tenacious work to ensure all of their co-workers have the safety measures and training they need."

Babeland was the first sex shop in the country to unionize. Employees voted last spring to join the RWDSU, in part to get higher wages and better benefits and scheduling.

The starting hourly rate at Babeland was already $14, "higher than many other retailers, in acknowledgement of the expertise involved in the work," Babeland co-founder Rachel Venning said in a statement.

"We want to be a collaborative and progressive workplace," Venning said. "We want our staff to feel fairly paid and empowered and the contract helps with that."

Babeland opened its first store in Seattle in 1993 and came to New York City in 1998 with a store on the Lower East Side. A SoHo location followed and the Park Slope outpost, at 462 Bergen St. (between Flatbush and Fifth avenues), opened in 2008.

Under the union contract, employees will get more job security, more certainty around work schedules and shift lengths, and more involvement from employees in hiring new managers, among other provisions. Babeland will also "make efforts to advertise job openings in traditionally marginalized communities," according to union and store officials.

"Solidifying access to better wages and benefits at Babeland will improve the quality of our lives," said Alexa Lambertis a sex educator and sales associate at Babeland's Mercer Street location in a statement. "As a queer woman of color, I am especially proud of accomplishing this through collective action — and I am pleased to see our company prosper through solidarity."

The RWDSU filed a complaint in November 2016 with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Babeland had fired an employee who engaged in union activity. The union and Babeland later came to an agreement on that issue "that is amenable to both parties," RWDSU spokeswoman Chelsea Connor said.