Picketers will once again discourage Borders Books & Music
shoppers from entering the Liberty Street store. Borders employees
are planning to go on strike this Saturday in protest of low wages
and benefits.

Mira Levitan
Students attempting to enter Borders this Saturday will be discouraged by Borders employees striking outside the store. The workers are planning to protest their low wages and benefits. (KELLY LIN/Daily)

Anne Roman, a Borders Group Inc. spokeswoman, said the store
will remain open in spite of the strike. She also said Borders is
willing to fairly negotiate to prevent the strike from
materializing, but that it is reluctant to make the changes for
which the union is asking. Eighteen University students are
currently employed at the Liberty Street Borders.

Heidi Sherman, a full-time Borders employee for two years, is
backing the strike.

“They really haven’t even been negotiating …
This is something that they have done in previous negotiations and
it makes everyone feel really ineffective and like they are getting
nowhere, and then unions give up and they go away,” Sherman
said. “We’re sick of this happening here and we feel
that the only way we can win and the only way we can get a contract
is to go on strike because it’s never been done before at a
Borders.”

Voting for union representation in contract negotiations last
December, the Liberty Street Borders is one of only two unionized
Borders locations in the country.

Irfan Nooruddin, a former Graduate Employees Organization member
at the University, said he supports the efforts of the Borders
Workers Union and is helping to coordinate the strike. Employees do
not get paid enough, said Nooruddin, now an assistant professor at
Ohio State University.

“A store like Borders which has such a history with Ann
Arbor has to do better for its workers,” he added.

Nooruddin said that receiving better benefits —
specifically health care — is of high importance to the
Borders Workers Union. “The main problem is that for the
full-time workers, the health care benefits and wages are so low
that most workers cannot buy the Borders benefits.”

Roman said Borders is committed to two principles in its
negotiations with employees.

“First, we believe that all of our employees at the more
than 430 Borders stores across the country deserve to be treated
fairly and consistently. Second, retail is an extremely competitive
environment and Borders is committed to doing the best we can to
balance the needs of our employees, customers and shareholders to
remain competitive in our industry,” she said.

Also the store’s hiring practices are causing some concern
among the employees who are protesting.

Nooruddin said Borders is replacing full-time workers with
part-time workers. “They hire part-time workers to work up to
20 hours a week which keeps them just under full-time and they are
not eligible for benefits.”

But Dan Smith, senior vice president for human resources at
Borders, said, “Actually, we have more full-timers in that
store than we do at the average Borders across the country.”
He added that 70 percent of the employees at this Borders store are
full-time staff.

Currently, the living wage in Ann Arbor as established by City
Council is $8.70 an hour with benefits and $10.20 an hour without
benefits. The starting salary at Borders is $6.50 an hour.

Tom Griffin, a former Borders employee and a current Law School
student at the University, said Borders workers are more than
qualified to receive a living wage.

“Almost everyone who works there has at least a (Bachelor
of Arts) … We’re talking about a very knowledgeable
workforce. It’s a world-class store, but the workers do not
get paid what they deserve and they are treated in a manner that
they should not be treated,” he said.

Roman said Borders employees are asking for more than the
Borders Group can give in order to remain competitive in the retail
market. She also said they are demanding more than employees at any
of their other nationwide stores receive. “It would be
irresponsible on our part to meet these demands,” Roman
added.

The protests by Borders employees could also serve as a larger
union movement in the country.

“The U.S. economy is changing so there are going to be
more retail jobs as a sort of wave of the future,” Nooruddin
said. “There is a danger in us allowing retail workers to
suffer low wages and low benefits simply because traditional high
paying jobs are moving to other parts of the world.”

Dave Pratt, an employee at Borders for over five years, said he
is skeptical of Borders’ recent hiring practices in light of
the strike. “Borders last week had a job fair where they
interviewed 100 people … The ostensible reason is for the
Christmas season, but our feeling is that they’re hiring to
replace us in event of a strike.”

At a meeting Tuesday night, the Michigan Student Assembly
debated the passage of a resolution that pledged student support
for the Union. Ultimately, the resolution failed.

MSA President Angela Galardi said she was upset that the
resolution did not pass. “Some (representatives) got bogged
down with numbers and living wage ideas where this is simply more
about asking a corporation to negotiate with workers just as we ask
the administration to negotiate with us over student issues.
It’s about bringing people together in good faith.”

 

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