Robert Glover is a bookseller at the Petaluma Copperfield's. He says the effort to unionize has been years in the making.
"Very early on, it was a conversation I occasionally would have with my coworkers, just generally frustrated with how the job was not keeping up with the consistent cost of living going up," Glover said. "A lot of people who had been there for decades end up leaving because they couldn't afford to work there anymore."
In August of last year, Glover says he reached out to the IWW, or the Industrial Workers of the World. That’s the same organization that helped Berkeley bookstore Moe’s Books unionize in 2021.
Last month staffers went public with their plans, holding a celebration in front of the store on March 3. However, Glover said Copperfield's management has yet to recognize the union.
"So when you go public when you declare that you want to unionize, an employer can either recognize and if they recognize that means it fast tracks the process," Glover said. "Because they didn't recognize us, the union reps are filing paperwork with the NLRB or the National Labor Relations Board; the vote will be held as a secret ballot election. But, you know, we were very confident that it's going to pass because the majority of us have signed cards already."
Assuming the vote sways in favor of unionizing, Glover said negotiations will begin with four core requests:
"The main things that we are pushing for is higher wages; we want to bargain for better health care; we also want to raise limits on our sick time and vacation time because right now they're at what is minimally required for the state of California," Glover said. "Then also, the other thing is more training...if someone comes in and projects or expresses some microaggressions or even macro aggressions towards someone, we're really not fully equipped for what we're supposed to do in those situations."
Glover said he, like many of his coworkers, has opted out of the company's healthcare plan.
"The current packages the company offers are not affordable," Glover said. "I mean, the majority of the full-time people including myself, are on Covered California, because that’s the more affordable option."
Ellen Skagerberg, a lead bookseller at the Petaluma store, echoes the sentiment. She’s worked for the company for 32 years.
"People who had been there for six years were making minimum wage, people who've been there for six weeks and six months," Skagerberg said. "And there becomes a point where you're saying, 'wait, how come I have all this knowledge, I know how everything is done, I love the company, I want to present for the company, I want people to come back, give them really great service. And yet, we're not being compensated for it.'"
Skagerberg said working with younger staffers has opened her eyes to the possibility of a new, more supportive work culture.
"They weren't resigned to the idea that it had to be because we got to work in a really fun job, that we were never going to get paid more than minimum wage, no matter how much experience we had," Skagerberg said. "And the people in their 20s are just really tender with each other, They're checking in with each other a lot and saying, 'are you doing ok; if you're feeling overwhelmed, take a few days off. You don't have to do everything, ask for help.' It's just been a different way of working with people and it's been very good for me personally, honestly."
Skagerberg admits having a working spouse has shielded her from some of the stress of minimum wage work. But she said she’s watched her counterparts struggle with expensive health care, little sick leave, and a lack of training.
"The other thing that I become much more aware of is, that for some of my colleagues, it does not feel like a safe place to work," Skagerberg said. "If they're people of color or LGBTQ...it does not feel safe for people. It's very difficult to be a trans person in working in public service...we need to know how to protect each other and need to make sure that management also is willing to step in very proactively when people feel threatened."
As the unionizing process continues, and negotiations start, Skagerberg said she's optimistic about the future.
"I think we have an employer that is ethical and I believe they’ll work with us," Skagerberg said. "We're going to negotiate in good faith...we're going to go in there assuming that they're going to do the same."
Both Glover and Skagerberg said the push for a unionized store is based on a love for their workplace. Glover said he hopes this will serve to strengthen and honor the Copperfield’s community.
"I think what's important is that for people to know is that we're doing this because we love Copperfield's," Glover said. "We're not trying to boycott the business in any way, or to ruffle any feathers, you know, because we work there. But we're really doing this because we love the store, and we want a more stable environment; we want to create something stable for people that will come after us."
Paul Jaffe, the co-owner of all nine Copperfield's North Bay locations, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Reporting in Petaluma for KRCB News, I’m Tash Kimmell.