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Add a Barnes & Noble in Western Mass. to tide of unionization

It’s just the second location of the brick-and-mortar bookselling giant where workers have voted to form a union

A Barnes and Noble Booksellers location in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Western Massachusetts bibliophiles can now buy their books union.

Eleven baristas and booksellers at the Hadley outpost of Barnes & Noble voted unanimously Thursday to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459. It’s the second of around 600 locations of the nation’s largest bookstore chain to organize, following in the footsteps of some 70 workers at the Rutgers University store.

Bookseller Cristi Jacques said the union intends to fight for equitable compensation, increased benefits, and better working conditions.

Several longtime staff members have not received wage increases beyond hikes to the state minimum wage in three years, and the way Barnes & Noble requires the store to be arranged can make it difficult for customers with mobility issues or visual impairments to navigate, she added.


“Retail workers and service workers have really struggled during the pandemic, and a lot of people have seen that in order to have security and have a voice, being in a union is the answer,” said Jacques, 40. “Relying on corporations has not served people well.”

Workers at Barnes & Noble’s flagship store in Manhattan’s Union Square have also taken steps to organize with an election slated for June 7. The Park Slope, Brooklyn, location went public with a union campaign on Thursday, too.

(Barnes & Noble did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

It’s part of a union renaissance that has swept the country — and Massachusetts, in particular — since the beginning of the pandemic, particularly at smaller businesses with a progressive bent. Spurred by concerns over working conditions and labor shortages, the movement started with a handful of urban coffee shops and local Starbucks storefronts, and blossomed from there to REI and Ben and Jerry’s.

In Hadley itself, Trader Joe’s workers unionized after a 45-to-31 vote in July. But negotiations on an actual contract have been slow, with the California-based company refusing to bargain remotely and offering what union members consider “unrealistic proposals,” as the Globe previously reported.


Jacques and her colleagues hope Barnes & Noble will be different.

Barnes and Noble booksellers and baristas rallying ahead of the union vote earlier this week.Nexus Hope

The bookseller chain faced tough times as Amazon and e-commerce took off in the past decade, only to come recently roaring back. Barnes & Noble launched just 15 new stores between 2010 and 2019. In 2022 alone, it opened — or is set to open — 23, including new locations in Dedham and Lynnfield. (Both the storefronts were formerly occupied by Amazon Books.)

Its strategy has shifted as well, CEO James Daunt said in October. The company has decentralized its buying, allowing sellers at each store to stock the shelves with inventory of their choosing.

Amazon Books was “in the right places but didn’t have stores that worked for them,” Daunt told the Globe in October. “Frankly, we’re thinking we can do better.”

Diti Kohli can be reached at her @ditikohli_.