moonpuppy (moonpuppy) wrote in utk,

Union Busting at McKay's

Hello all. Many of you probably shop at McKay's Used Books and CDs. I was recently fired there for attempting to unionize, and a myriad of other union-busting actions took place while I was there as well. I'm trying to make it public so that the owner will be wary of continuing such behavior, especially in case anyone who's still there would like to continue my union efforts.

Keep shopping there if you want (employees do get a small bonus if the profit exceeds the previous year--and they look forward to that, even if they have to work their butts off to get it!), but when you go, please fill out a complaint form saying you do not appreciate their union-busting. Thanks, Gabby Kindell.

I was once talking to another cashier (maybe 7 months ago) about whether or not it would be a good idea to unionize McKay's. He was trying to convince me that there was something in the employee manual saying you could get fired for that, and I was like "Well surely she's at least smart enough not to put it in writing," and of course she is, there's nothing like that in the manual. But he was trying to prove his point, and so he asked a manager walking past, "What would happen to someone if they tried to start a union here?" That manager answered really quickly, "Don't do it, you'll be fired," and he also looked sort of nervous about the question.

Maybe 2 months after that, a different manager was taking me upstairs to get my raise. He said, "I wish we could give everybody a whole dollar raise, but we just can't do that. Maybe we should strike?! Just kidding! Don't ever talk about striking, Gabby, Anne doesn't like that." [Anne is Anne Jacobson, the owner].

It's clear to me from these interactions that Anne has told management to union bust. Management doesn't get to decide what is a firable offense, and how would that manager know Anne didn't like to hear about striking unless Anne had told him so?

When I ultimately decided to pursue a union at McKay's, and began actively working on that, I sent an e-mail to everyone there making a point about how odd it was that "if we each realize how much hard work we're doing, why isn't that hard work more recognized on our paychecks?" A lot of people there really liked that I'd sent that e-mail. But the next day, I was taken up to
the conference room and confronted by three members of management. The supposed reason I was brought to the conference room was because of a customer complaint, in which a woman said I hadn't explained to her how the trade credits worked. They said that they could never bring me to the conference room to talk about that e-mail, but they talked to me about it anyway, and for much longer than about the complaint. I was told in a hostile manner that if I wanted to talk about my wages, I should talk to Anne, and that if I didn't like my wages, well, I knew what they were when I started.

Since I assumed they'd soon after try to find a way to fire me if I persisted, I decided to be as public about unionizing as possible, so as to make the reason for any firing very blatant. At that point, all I had done was say we deserved better wages. I hadn't used the word "union." I then sent a letter to Anne Jacobson telling her of my intentions, in which I also detailed the
things that had been said to me by management and how they indicated illegal activity on her part. I asked her merely to stand aside and allow my unionizing to happen. I also sent a copy of that letter to everyone who works at McKay's, along with a letter telling them of their rights in regards to unionizing. I then "laid low" for a few weeks, trying to figure out how people were feeling.

Two days before I was fired (I had been actively trying to unionize McKay's for a month and a half at this point) I put a copy of the song "Solidarity Forever" on the fridge in the break room. The next day, the song had been taken down. There also used to be a picture of a striking union worker on the fridge (it had been there when i started working there a year ago--I have no
idea who put it up) and it had been taken down not long after I talked to a manager about the fact that I was pro-union and pro-labor. One manager even once admitted in my presence (this was before I made public my intention to unionize) that she'd been told to censor the break room. On the day she called to fire me, I asked her why she'd said this. She claimed she'd only been told once to censor the word "groin." Last time I read the lyrics, the word "groin" does not appear in Solidarity Forever.

But Solidarity Forever definitely *was* taken from the break room. And when I saw that that had happened, I came downstairs and taped up a sign that read,"union busting is disgusting... and illegal." A member of management asked me what I was doing. This was the same manager who had once said to me, "Don't do it, you'll get fired." I asked him why he'd said that, and he claimed he couldn't remember saying anything like that. I raised my voice to him and said "this is i-fucking-llegal." At one point he also asked if I was quitting. I said no but "Have fun trying to figure out a way to fire me." Everything had been building up, and I was angry. Later that same night, I went back to talk to him more quietly. He told me he wasn't trying to stop me from unionizing, and even said, "Gabby, we're not firing you." The next day, I got a call from a different manager saying, "Due to your outburst last night and your use of a curse word, we have to fire you." I feel that I was fired in an attempt to prevent a union from forming. I feel that I was fired because I was becoming more vocal in my attempt to unionize, and because I was urging members of management to admit to union-busting statements and actions.

McKay's does pay slightly better than most retail, but they also work their people MUCH harder! And even as hardcore as the workload is already at McKay's, it is skyrocketing. The pay is increasing, of course, with annual raises, but the raises are certainly not keeping up with the workload.

I used to work at Target, and although overall McKay's was a better place to work (you don't HAVE to stand for 8 hours, for instance, there are chairs available for cashiers) there was definitely MUCH more work to be done at McKay's. And the workload there is still increasing by leaps and bounds. Right now there's a profit-sharing hourly bonus at McKay's, but we had to work so hard to get the same amount of bonus that workers made effortlessly when the new store was started. In five years, the profit-sharing bonus will be either really minuscule, or altogether gone. Effectively, people will be doing much more work, but for less pay. And the profit-sharing bonus was not some huge thing, either. It was based on how much the profit from that pay period exceeded that pay period from the previous year. You could make up to $2 per hour if you were "full bonus" status (I was only half-bonus status, as were many others). I never knew the bonus to ever reach $2 while I was there. The most I ever knew it to get while I was there was around $1.60, and like I said, many of us only got half that amount. It's an okay bonus that you have to work REALLY hard to get, but in five or so years, will be nothing.

Anne Jacobson has also been known to refer to McKay's as being "like a mining operation" or "the Wal-Mart of the used book world." Anyone who knows much about coal/diamond mining companies and WalMart knows that if someone is modeling themselves after those businesses, they're probably not especiallypro-labor! I think, from what I've heard, that when she started the business, she was much fairer. But greed is a funny thing... the more people get, the more they want sometimes. At one point, not long after I'd worked there, management was instructed to tell us all that Anne expected us to ALWAYS be working. If there was no work, we needed to find work. Well... for one thing, that's rarely the case at McKay's. For another thing... anyone who's fair to their workers realizes that we all need a little break every now and then. To get a drink of water, use the bathroom, have a little chat with co-workers, etc. I think McKay's is becoming quite corporate. Even once in the office, a manager said to me, "I don't know why people keep saying we're not corporate. We ARE corporate." She's about to open a third store in Nashville, and I predict that in 10 years she'll have expanded by at least two stores in addition to that one. She's modeling herself off walmart... and creating an empire.

I think some of my co-workers at McKay's did not agree that a union is necessary at McKay's right now. And they might be right. Like I said, they do pay slightly better than some retail. (Although honestly, slightly better than Wal-Mart isn't saying that much). The point is, in 5 years, there will undeniably be a need for a union there, and at that point, the turnover rate and the workload will be so high as to make organizing a union nearly impossible. Regardless of whether or not McKay's ever gets a union... people need to know what happened there. In case anyone there wants to continue my unionizing efforts, I want to go public to make Anne Jacobson, the owner of McKay's, less likely to continue firings, censorsing, etc. should others attempt a union at any point.
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While I think that you being fired for cursing or for unionizing is horrible... The employees should be happy at the raises they get.

I work at UT, this year was the highest raise I've gotten since I started here 3 years ago. My 3% raise turned into something like 42 cents per hour. I would absolutely LOVE $1 or more per hour raise, but I don't ever see that happening. I've been told that there have been years on end where UT employees didn't get raises at all, and then most years I've seen are only 1-2% increases. Those of us at the bottom get very little in the way of increases. 2% of nothing is still nothing. We have a union here and they work their asses off trying to get us better compensation, and we still only get pennies.
No, they don't give $1/hour raise at McKay's. There are two raise periods per year, and during those, you have a possible $0.50 you can get, but *nobody* gets that full amount as far as I know. I got $0.28 for mine, to put things into perspective. And yes, if you got $0.28 cents for both raise periods, that would mean $0.56 raise for the year, which is better than raises at say, Target, where I worked before. And I hafta add, McKay's workload is *crazy*. The only place comparable to that workload was at a Wendy's during lunch rush, which I think might beat out McKay's--and that was largely because when I worked there, I was expected to sometimes work 2 or 3 stations at once because we were understaffed and badly scheduled. Sure, Wendy's probably needs a union more than McKay's, but with any company that large, it's nearly impossible to form one.

And I TOTALLY completely agree about UT. I am a member of that union, and I have been involved in doing a lot of action in support of that union, and in support of better raises. UT also (unfortunately) does not formally recognize the UCW-CWA, which is a load of crock, especially since Petersen is now trying to take some of the credit for their hard work.
Illegal firing? How is that? You were not employed under contract and by your description does not sound like you were fired for discriminatory reasons.

As for unions, you are not employed because of the good will of the owner, and she has no reason to pay you what you please. Putting aside from the fact that you didn't (or at least neglected to mention) that you ever spoke with management and reasoned out why you felt you deserved a raise before you attempts at unionizing. In our (mostly) free-market, capitalist system, labor is employed at below its value, that is how a business can make money, unions essentially extort money from an employer, ruining the very business they claim to want to be a part. Take the American auto makers as an example of unions run-amok.

Good luck in your search for future, hopefully more satisfying employment.