Staff at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma are unionizing

“My pay has only gone up when minimum wage has gone up,” Robert Glover, spokesperson for the Copperfield’s Books Union said.|

Editor’s Note: This article was updated Friday, March 17, to include a comment from Copperfield’s Books.

Staff members at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma are unionizing in an attempt to gain higher pay, better insurance benefits and a more stable work environment.

Robert Glover, a full-time book buyer and spokesperson for the Copperfield’s Books Union, said he and fellow staff members want the opportunity to retain knowledgeable employees, earn better pay and health care. They believe that can be achieved by forming a union.

“I’ve been here for almost seven years now and I’ve pretty much stayed at minimum wage,” Glover said. “My pay has only gone up when minimum wage has gone up.”

The state’s minimum wage was $10 in 2016 and increased to $15.50 as of Jan. 1.

Copperfield’s Books, a chain of bookstores based out of Sebastopol with nine stores across Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties, sells both new and used books with a book-buying program.

Efforts to unionize the Petaluma staff started in August 2022 when Glover reached out to the Industrial Workers of the World trade union and talked to fellow staff members about unionizing.

By March 1, Glover had received signed union cards from Copperfield’s staff and announced to both corporate and managing staff about the union.

However, the request to voluntarily recognize the union was denied by the corporate office in Sebastopol, so the next step is for staff members to vote for union representation. And Glover is confident that vote will pass.

Paul Jaffe, co-owner, founder and president of Copperfield’s Books, said in a statement Friday that the company is not denying the staff’s efforts to unionize and looks forward to working with staff and the National Labor Relations Board to “ensure that all voices are heard and that due process is followed.”

“We are not tone-deaf to the concerns of our employees, and know we can always try and do better,” Jaffe said in the statement.

“There are some things we just can’t accomplish, that speak more to the issues of trying to succeed as an independent bookstore business, to the entire economic system that we all try and grapple with on a day to day basis, that are much bigger than just Copperfield’s Books.”

The union plans to negotiate for better pay, better health care and more sick time and paid time off. Currently, non-management employees make minimum wage with few making just above that.

Glover said a majority of the full-time staff is insured by Covered California, a government agency and marketplace that provides Californians with affordable health care options, because the insurance offered by Copperfield’s is not affordable considering the workers’ current salaries.

“The 24 hours of sick time (we get) is the minimum required by the state of California,” Glover said.

“This is about a sense of dignity, you know, we feel that we are worth more than what is minimally required.”

Ellen Skagerberg, a part-time head buyer of used and rare books at the Petaluma shop, is one of the few unionizing employees that earns higher than minimum wage. She said it’s not fair that their younger employees have to choose between living at home or with a roommate or buying groceries for the week.

“And each of us having to go and ask for a raise and hearing no over and over again is so frustrating,” she said.

Skagerberg also wants the company to provide better guidance on how workers can protect each other from microaggressions and macroaggressions, along with better pay and benefits.

“If someone comes in to question an employee’s gender identity, I don’t know if I can turn to the sign on the door saying we can refuse service,” she said. “Management has not been responsive in giving us store training in how to protect each other.”

Jaffe said in his statement that he and co-owner Barney Brown don’t believe having a union makes sense because it has continued to be a family-run business that was able to navigate the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent spike in inflation.

“Not only are we still fully open for business in all our stores, servicing all the communities that we do, we have not laid off a single employee during that time,” Jaffe said in his statement.

The Petaluma unionizing staff members held a celebration Saturday to raise awareness about their efforts to unionize and gain community support, which Glover said was a success.

“It was an event that represented how far we’ve come and represented the beginning of a new chapter,” he said.

The best way for the public to show support, Glover said, is to continue to shop at Copperfield’s and follow the union on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“We love the store and we’re not trying to boycott the business in any way,” he said. “We really want it to thrive because we work there.”

Jaffe added in his statement that internal discussions with employees have been scheduled to give employees the chance to be heard.

“I believe we are all better off working together and not be torn apart, not just store by store, but management versus staff,” he said in his statement.

“We strongly believe that these conversations will only make us stronger.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sara Edwards at 707-521-5487 or sara.edwards@pressdemocrat. com. On Twitter @sedwards380.

Sara Edwards

Business reporter

Small businesses are the bread and butter of Sonoma County. I cover a diverse group: Chambers of commerce and business groups, clothing shops, jewelry boutiques, hobby stores and more. Economic uncertainty is a high concern among Sonoma County consumers, and it’s my job to make sure shoppers know what’s happening in the local economy and how those trends and issues impact them.

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