Bookstores are suffering during the COVID-19 epidemic, with many forced to temporarily close their physical locations. Barnes & Noble shops remain open (except in locations closed by public order), but CEO James Daunt warns his employees that changes are coming, with plans for “substantial reductions in cost,” including cuts of personnel already underway at the home office. He says sales continue well, especially online, but, “We have to assume that this is going to go on for a while, and that it is going to be a lot worse than it is now.” He seems to view closures and layoffs as inevitable, and says “when a store is closed, employees will first make use of their Paid Time Off. When this is exhausted, we will pay employees with one or more years of service for up to two weeks based on their weekly standard hours. Temporarily, and with sincere regret, on closure we lay off all those employees impacted with less than six months employment on the day of closure…. This is a devastating situation in which to find ourselves and we understand the personal impacts of such action.” Daunt announced plans to close all 280 branches of Waterstones, the bookseller he runs in the UK, effective March 23, 2020. Most of the staff furloughed without pay, though the UK government is expected to cover much of their lost wages.
Powell’s Books in Portland OR announced temporary layoffs in mid-March, letting go about 85% of their nearly 600 employees. HR director Michelle Afroso said, “if sales continue to decrease in the future, we will need to take further action. We will try to avoid additional layoffs by reducing the size of the company over time through a hiring freeze and attrition.” The store expects it to take several months for normal operations to resume, and indicated that some of the layoffs would be permanent. About 400 members of Powell’s staff are unionized (part of ILWU Local 5), and the union said, “As with most emergencies, those that suffer the most are workers and marginalized communities. We do not believe this to be appropriate or fair and in this moment we continue to urge all Employers, including Powell’s Books, to continue to support workers in any and every way possible.” Owner Emily Powell says, “I am doing everything within my power to keep Powell’s alive,” but notes, “We run on duct tape and twine on a daily basis, every day trading funds from one pocket to patch the hole in another.” Powell’s is still shipping books online: <www.powells.com>.
McNally Jackson in New York also closed its stores and laid off much of its staff in mid-March, with reports that about 80 people were let go, “to be hired back at an indeterminate date.” They will keep health care for the rest of the month. The store says, “We are paying staff for the week. Beyond that, facing down a massive, unprecedented loss in revenue, in consultation with union we have laid off employees until the store is able to reopen.” They are fulfilling phone and web orders. <www.mcnallyjackson.com>.
Books-a-Million remains open, but is offering curbside pick-up of books at most locations. Half-Price Books has temporarily closed all its stores to the public, but also offers curbside pickup. The Tattered Cover bookshops in Denver CO has put most of their 100-plus employees on unpaid leave (which at least lets them keep their health insurance), while keeping on a “skeleton crew” to fulfill orders online; they also offer curbside pick-ups. The 21 brick-and-mortar Amazon Books stores have all temporarily closed.
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2 thoughts on “Bookstore News”
Half Price Books fired 2000 employees with no notice, OVER THE PHONE OR VOICEMAIL. Health Insurance take from them in the middle of the pandemic. They kept reassuring employees there would be no layoffs until the day they fired them. Many employees could have made more money elsewhere but they thought HPB would treat them right. HPB always bragged that they were a “hippie” company THEY SCREWED their hardworking, loyal employees
As of Monday March 30th I was reassured by my store manager Karen Freewalt on the phone when I called her at work that everything was fine and that I would be receiving sick time pay for that week. Then on Thursday April 2nd she called me and read a script that told me I didn’t work for Half Price Books anymore and that I could call the hotline for more information. I never received sick time pay for any of the days of that week. Once I began hearing from coworkers that everyone was either laid off or laid off with furlough, which meant they got to keep their insurance and benefits and would have the same job and pay when the stores reopen, I became confused about which I was. I called back and couldn’t get my manager on the phone. I called my assistant district manager Mark Maxwell and he confirmed that I was NOT offered furlough. I asked why and he refused to answer, just directed me to call the hotline. Nobody ever answered the hotline when I called. Not once. Nobody ever called me back from the hotline. Not once. I also emailed two people from HPB corporate and got no response from one and an extremely wordy email from the other that said exactly nothing. We were constantly told that they used some mystery “metrics” to decide which employees to lay off permanently and which ones were offered furlough, but nobody could define these for us in any way other than to tell us to call the useless hotline. Employees who weren’t even fully trained (any therefore had not earned any raises, saved up any sick time or vacation time, etc…) were offered furlough while employees of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, or more years were tossed in the garbage like moldy books. I had almost 16 years of excellent reviews and received the highest raises possible every single year, yet I was not offered furlough. Instead I and my family were kicked off my health insurance during a pandemic. So far every single employee I have spoken to has either used FMLA leave at least once in their years employed or was on FMLA leave currently, had been injured at work and filed for workers comp at least once during their time employed, had been there a very long time and made “too much” money (that’s direct quote from a store manager) or they had filed a grievance against someone in management at the local or district level at some point in time during their employment or even currently had an open grievance when they were laid off without furlough. Or some combination of any of these things. I myself had filed a hostile work environment grievance against the district manager Chris Hueing for violent and menacing behavior that had made many employees in my district uncomfortable. He still works there and I do not. Every. Single. Former. Employee. Not. Offered. Furlough. Are we seeing a likely pattern here folks? I think I see one. The pattern appears to me as though Half Price Crooks, as some on Twitter have taken to calling them, seems to have decided to use a pandemic as a shady “legal” way to clean house and get rid of all of the employees who would otherwise be illegal to fire. Can anyone say retaliation?