Politics and Prose has become the first unionized book store in D.C. (Courtesy Photo)

By Aysia Morton,
Special to the AFRO

Since 1984 Politics and Prose has proudly been an independent bookstore and a staple in the nation’s capital. On Jan. 3 the establishment made history by becoming the first unionized books store in D.C. Over 50 of the bookstores’ workers, across its three locations, were in pursuit of a fair and equitable workplace. 

The union members are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400, a regional labor union known for supporting retail and healthcare workers. 

“These workers joined our union family because they wanted better wages, pay transparency and a standardized pay scale. They also wanted a voice in the workplace to address understaffing, scheduling, health and safety policies, and other issues,” stated UFCW Local 400.  

Succeeding public backlash, Politics and Prose owners Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine voluntarily recognized the union after numerous weeks of refusal and hiring Jones Day, a law firm known for its contentious anti-union tactics.  

We reached out to the union organizers in the spirit of collaboration to propose negotiations on the scope of a collective bargaining unit. Our hope is that these discussions will result in an agreement and open the way to a voluntary recognition of the union at P&P,” co-owners Graham and Muscatine wrote in a statement on their website. 

The Politics and Prose Union has been several years in the making, some workers were unsure if they would see the fruits of their labor. “I’m glad that after all the work that so many different people put in over the course of several years, that it all sort of came to something,” Adam Wescott, who’s worked at Politics and Prose since 2015, told the DCist. 

Through the years, the union had numerous supporters including customers that showed their support by wearing red on Wednesdays and authors who stood in solidarity with the union on social media.  

Unions play a pivotal role in the workforce. According to tCeline McNicholas l of the Economic Policy Institute, unionized workers earn on average 11.2 percent more in wages than their nonunionized peers. Black workers represented by a union are paid 13.7 percent more than their nonunionized peers and Hispanic workers represented by unions are paid 20.1 percent more than their nonunionized peers.  

The Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that retail is the largest private-sector employer in the economy. It is the third largest employer of women and the second largest employer of people of color. Yet, under five percent of retail workers were members of a union in 2020, a figure that has barely changed since 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

The Politics and Prose Workers Union said they, “are proud to join the growing movement of booksellers and baristas across the country who have unionized their workplaces…forming our union has not only served as an affirmation of our shared values within the Politics and Prose community, it will also strengthen our workplace and ensure the long-term success of our beloved community hub.”

“We look forward to negotiating our first contract and welcoming more bookstore workers in D.C. and beyond into our union family,” the newly unionized employees said.

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