Borders Employees Strike

11 Nov 2003

Paul R. Potts

I’ve spent a few hours tonight and last night on the picket line in front of Borders Bookstore #1 in downtown Ann Arbor. Of course, longtime residents know that Borders #1 was on State Street. But this is the relocated mother ship.

Borders employees are on strike, and as longtime fan of Borders I have chosen to show solidarity by picketing with them. It is well past midnight and time for me to go to bed, so I will not be able to write anything more detailed, but here is the note I sent to family and friends today:

When I first visited Ann Arbor in 1988 or thereabouts, one of the things I enjoyed most about the town was Borders: an independent bookstore on State Street with a cool escalator, a really knowledgeable staff, and an amazing selection.

The staff was so good that it was common to joke about them. They really knew their subject areas. A columnist in the Ann Arbor News wrote about trying to get decent help in another bookstore: “I began to suspect he didn’t even have a Ph.D.”

I moved to Ann Arbor in 1990 and can’t even begin to estimate the time and money I’ve spent in Borders. A lot has changed: it is now a big chain. But Borders #1 is still in downtown Ann Arbor and it still has the Borders name on it, and it is still trading on that good name.

The corporation does not deserve to use that good name any more. It is just another massive chain, and like a lot of massive chain stores it is mistreating its employees. The employees at store #1 are on strike. Details may be found here:

Now, I myself am not always an unqualified supporter of all union activities; I think unions can be abusive. But I believe this is just about as clear an example as possible of employees striking for their livelihood. As one former employee puts it:

In 1994, the starting wage at Borders was $6.10 an hour.

In 2000, when I left, it was $6.50 an hour.

And it STILL is $6.50.

As goes Borders, so goes Ann Arbor and the rest of the world. As retail and service sector employees become an increasingly massive part of the economy, the treatment of retail workers is going to be the biggest labor issue of the ’00s.

So please, consider boycotting Borders, Waldenbooks, and If you live in or near Ann Arbor, and you love what Borders once was, please also consider joining the picket line. I’ll be on the line evenings this week from 8 to 11 as I can. My wife Grace and son Isaac will also be there as they are able to be. If you live near another Borders store, consider picketing them. Tell Borders management what you think.

Addendum 23 Mar 2004: the strike has been settled. Thanks for all your support.

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