Workers keep pressure on Half Price Books for a fair first contract

Workers outside the Roseville store last weekend included (L to R) Garrett Hoffman, Max Sparks, Terell Paris, Hanna Anderson, Aaron Kerr and Bill Lloyd.

Nearly 18 months into bargaining their first union contract, workers at four Half Price Books locations in the Twin Cities are enlisting customer and public support to push their talks across the finish line.

Union members, who began holding public actions outside union stores last weekend, say the bookseller developed a case of writer’s block when it came time to draft economic terms of the contract.

The union’s bargaining team delivered its proposal for wages and benefits earlier this year, said Aaron Kerr, who has over 25 years of experience with the company.

“We were expecting them to counter on that offer two months ago, and they have not,” Kerr said Sunday outside the Roseville store where he works. “They stalled. They brought in a new lawyer, who pretended to not know what we wanted.”

With talks set to resume May 30, union members began appealing to customers outside the Coon Rapids and Roseville stores last weekend. The actions will continue from noon to 1 p.m. Saturday at the St. Louis Park store and at the same time Sunday outside the St. Paul store, located in Highland Park.

“We’re handing out stickers and bookmarks, just telling everybody about what’s going on with our negotiations and asking for their support,” Kerr said. “We want to put some pressure on the company, and hopefully then we can get back to business.”

Workers at all four stores are bargaining jointly with Half Price Books, with representation from the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

The talks had been productive before reaching the economic phase, with the two sides reaching tentative agreements on language regarding workplace health and safety, grievance procedures and scheduling.

Other tentative agreements would prevent managers from filling jobs that would take hours away from workers in union shops, and would clearly establish a process, based primarily on seniority, for potential layoffs.

Kerr said supporters are welcome to show their solidarity inside or outside the stores this weekend, or by signing workers’ petition demanding a living wage and fair benefits.

Half Price Books workers in Roseville and St. Paul went public with their union drive in October 2021 after a round of layoffs that, workers said, were handled arbitrarily and left their stores with inadequate staffing. The union bug spread to Coon Rapids and St. Louis Park in the months that followed.

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