On Sept. 6, members of UFCW Local 400 who work at Politics and Prose, the iconic bookstore and coffeehouse in Washington, D.C., ratified their first union contract.
Politics and Prose employees became the first bookstore in Washington, D.C., to unionize after owners Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine agreed to voluntarily recognize the union in January. Negotiations on a first collective bargaining agreement began shortly after and a tentative agreement on a new contract was announced on August 30. On September 6, workers voted 33–4 in favor of ratifying the contract. According to an analysis by Bloomberg Law, it takes 465 days on average for a newly unionized workforce with a newly unionized employer to reach a first contract, but workers at Politics and Prose were able to reach a deal in well under a year.
The groundbreaking three-year contract covers approximately 50 current workers and builds on Politics and Prose’s already generous leave and fringe benefits programs to provide comprehensive benefits and union protections for the staff, including:
• Better Pay – The contract does away with merit pay raises in favor of guaranteed annual increases based on experience. Each experience credit step increases in proportion to the annual D.C. minimum wage increase. As the minimum wage increases, the entire pay scale increases as well. For example, if the minimum wage increases by $1.00, current employees will receive a raise of $1.00 in addition to their annual experience step increase.
• Better Scheduling – Schedules must be provided two weeks in advance and changes must be approved by the employee. Employees are also protected against discipline for tasks not completed due to understaffing.
• Provides “Just Cause” protections from unjust discipline or firing
• Establishes grievance procedure to resolve disputes with management.
• Expands on existing anti-discrimination language and incorporates provisions into the contract, which allows employees to pursue discrimination claims through the union grievance procedure.
• Establishes a Labor-Management committee for workers to address ongoing concerns with management.
“The ratification this morning shows that the workers are eager to start this new chapter at Politics and Prose,” said John Fisher, a branch bookseller at the Wharf location. “It’s not a mystery, it’s not a thriller. When workers first considered unionizing, some people thought it was fantasy. But now it’s a reality and I’m excited to find out what happens next.”
“We are incredibly elated to have arrived here after eight months of hard work, and it is an honor to be part of this union organizing wave that is happening across the country,” said Isa Salazar, a subscriptions coordinator who has worked at Politics and Prose for two years. “We wouldn’t be where we are without the passion and care of everyone at the bookstore and I’m just overwhelmed and excited to see what happens next.”
“These workers reached a groundbreaking contract in record time,” said UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federici. “That’s no small feat. While most contracts take well over a year to settle, thanks to the dedication and commitment these workers have to each other and their employer, they were able to reach an agreement in a matter of months. Today’s achievement ensures that Politics and Prose will continue to succeed and serve the community well into the future.”
Politics and Prose co-owners Brad Graham and Lissa Muscatine issued the following statement following the contract ratification:
“We’re pleased to have reached mutual agreement with UFCW Local 400 on P&P’s first union contract. The agreement incorporates key policies and practices that have been in place at P&P for years, affirming the bookstore’s proud history of supporting our staff. Other provisions build on this history and will bring additional clarity and structure to P&P’s operations. We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively and constructively with the union in achieving our joint goal of strengthening P&P for our community of readers.”