Rumpus Round-Up: The Fight to Unionize a Bookstore


Late last month, employees of Book Culture, an independent New York City bookstore, voted to unionize. Five employees were promptly fired.

Punitively firing employees who participate in labor unions violates federal labor law. On July 2, the remaining workers went on strike in protest of the illegal firings.

Book Culture claimed the dismissed employees were supervisors and ineligible to participate in a union. The employees said they were improperly designated managers, a common trick employers use to bypass labor laws.

Meanwhile, the bookstore’s main clientele consisted of Columbia University faculty, with class books providing a major source of revenue. The faculty called for a boycott.

Book Culture owner Chris Doeblin finally capitulated in early July. He cut a deal with the labor union to restore four of the fired employees and make restitution to the fifth, and he will recognize the labor union when it comes to negotiating employee salaries.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →