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Moe’s Books Union and Supporters Picket Store

The Oakland Post spoke to five different Moe’s workers. When we asked them why they were protesting, they claimed they were concerned about what they saw as “union-busting tactics,” low wages, and understaffing.

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Unionized Moe's Books workers, IWW members, and supporters stand together near Moe's Books in Berkeley on Saturday September 26. Photo by Zack Haber.

Unionized Moe’s Books workers picketed with supporters outside the Berkeley bookstore from on September 25, to demand better working conditions and pay.

“It feels really relieving to be finally talking to people about what’s been going on at Moe’s,” said Moe’s worker Kalie McGuirl at the rally on Saturday afternoon. “I feel like people have no idea how bad it’s been for us.”

McGuirl was one of 10 unionized workers who stood with a crowd of about two dozen people that day. They held signs, handed out flyers, and talked to hundreds of customers and those passing by the Berkeley bookstore. An instagram post from the Moe’s Union account called the event an “informational picket” and claimed the aim was not “impeding business” but “to spread the word about our conditions and gather community support for the union.”

The Oakland Post spoke to five different Moe’s workers. When we asked them why they were protesting, they claimed they were concerned about what they saw as “union-busting tactics,” low wages, and understaffing.

Doris Moskowitz, who took over ownership of Moe’s Books after her father, Morris “Moe” Moskowitz passed away in 1997, denies the claims. In March, she voluntarily recognized her workers’ request to form a union with the Industrial Workers of the World, commonly known as the IWW.

But workers have not been happy with how Moskowitz has interacted with the union. Recently, Moe’s Union filed an Unfair Labor Practice claim with the National Labor Review Board accusing Moskowitz of offering promotions with the goal of removing workers from the union.

Workers say one person who received such an offer,was Barry Bloom, a 74-year-old Moe’s Books union member who has worked as a book shipper since the late ’90s. Bloom said Moskowitz offered him the opportunity to become the supervisor of the shipping department. But at the time of the offer, Bloom was the only member of that department.

“My immediate reaction was to wonder ‘who would I be supervising?’” Bloom said. “I pretty much instantly saw it as a union-busting tactic.”

Union rules state that managers and supervisors cannot be part of the Moe’s Books Union. Bloom wanted to stay in the union, so he declined the offer, which did not come with any proposed salary increase. Since the offer was proposed, a worker has been assigned to do shipping work with Bloom for three hours a week, but Bloom still sees no good purpose to the existence of a shipping department supervisor at the store.

Moskowitz claims her offers of promotions to workers have been unrelated to the union.

“I believe an employer has the right to offer promotions to its employees even when they have a union,” she said. “We have not made any job offer or offers of promotions in order to encourage any employee to break from their support of the union.”

Owen Hill, a Moe’s Books union member who has worked at the store for over 35 years, described the staff makeup as “top heavy.” There are currently 13 unionized workers and seven managers, supervisors, or owners who are not qualified to be in the union, but many of the managerial and supervisory job titles did not exist until talks of the store unionizing began.

“Who is this management team?,” said Hill. “Suddenly someone you’ve been working with has this title. It really draws battle lines.”

Moskowitz sees it differently and thinks little has changed.

“Many long-term employees [have been] in supervisor positions even though we never called it that because, up until now, Moe’s has functioned as more of a collective,” she said. “We didn’t think we needed job titles before.”

Moe’s Books workers are asking for higher wages. At the informational picket, they talked to people about their demand that all Moe’s workers make at least $20 an hour. Kalie McGuirl, who has worked at Moe’s for three years, said her salary of $18.50 means that she pays 40% of her income on rent even when her two roommates, who are more financially secure, have agreed to pay a higher portion of the rent costs they share.

She is disturbed that some workers, like Bloom, who have been at the store for decades, still make less than $20 an hour. Currently, unionized Moe’s employees make between $16.50 and $23.50 an hour. Moskowitz has been negotiating with the union and has met with them about a dozen times. Although she would not talk specifics because she does not “want to be accused of bargaining through the media,” she said she believes “the proposals we are making are competitive, especially in the retail niche that we occupy.”

Moe’s Books worker Noah Ross would not reveal specific offers the union had received while they are still bargaining but characterized offers the store ownership had proposed so far as “almost offensive,” and noted that a nearby chain Mexican restaurant, Chipotle, has been offering starting wages of $18$ to $18.50.

In response to questions about wages, Moskowitz said the bookstore has been “struggling to survive during a global pandemic,” and that “like other employers, we have faced many challenges since the beginning of shelter-in-place.”

Moe’s Books storefront was closed from mid-March to mid-June of 2020, and even its online store was closed for a few weeks. Individuals helped the store during this time, donating just over $89,000 through the Moe’s Books 2020 Lifeline GoFundMe campaign. Since then, the store has been open at reduced hours.

Noah Ross, who counts money made through in-person sales during closeout after workdays, said that despite the reduced hours, he thinks things are going well financially for Moe’s.

“The store is making a ton of money,” Ross said, “probably more than it did before the pandemic started.”

While only counting in-store figures, not online sales, Ross said the store regularly pulls in $4,000-$6,000 on an average day, and around $8,000 on an average Saturday.

Solomon Wong, who works with the Moe’s Books website, said internet sales are doing great, and that Moskowitz has sent him e-mails indicating she is happy with the sale numbers.

Moskowitz told The Oakland Post that “internet sales are OK,” but that the daily in-store closeout numbers Ross is claiming are incorrect and “don’t take into account the considerable expense of running an independent business, especially in the Bay Area.” Moe’s Books’ sale figures are impossible to know precisely. Moskowitz said the store is “a private company that does not publish confidential and proprietary financial information.”

Moe’s Union has called on more workers to be hired and claim they are “stretched thin” and unable to currently do all the work they would like to do in the store. In a recent instagram post, they stated “In the past few months, our staff has shrunk by 4, and we’ve extended our business hours…After months of begging management for more help, they have hired just one new employee.” Moskowitz told The Oakland Post the store has no immediate plans to hire new workers.

Starting about two months ago, Moskowitz began again raising money through a Moe’s Books General fund GoFundMe campaign. In the fundraiser’s write up, she states “Moe’s Books does not own the [storefront] building…we pay rent and live with the hope that our landlords let us stay.”

It is unclear who the landlords are that Moskowitz refers to. County Assessor records show that a trust managed by the lawyer Peter Lippett owns the Moe’s Books building. When asked about the trust and who the beneficiaries are, Moskowitz stated “I would prefer not to discuss the details with you.”

In the GoFundMe write up, Moskowitz also wrote, “Although I am a beneficiary of the trust that collects rent, none of the money collected here will go to me or my siblings personally.”

At the informational picket, workers said they received mostly positive responses. Although a few people criticized their picketing a small business, more than 50 people signed and hand delivered a pre-written letter in support of the union’s demands as they entered the store.

“[Moe’s Books] is part of a larger community and people have gone out of their way to support them, especially during quarantine,” said Oakland based artist joy tirade, who talked to union members at the picket and hand delivered the union letter. “So, they should take care of the people that represent their store.”

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

Activism

John George Democratic Club to Hold Social Justice Awards on Oct. 16

This year the Club will honor Pamela George, daughter of John George, who was the first African American elected to the Alameda Board of Supervisors in 1978.  Come on the 16th to meet Pamela (virtually) and hear more about her work as well her father.

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John George - Photo courtesy of John George Democratic Club website

Activists for social justice are often unsung heroes. To help remedy that, the John George Democratic Club will virtually hold its Eighth Biennial Social Justice Awards ceremony on Saturday October 16 at 300 p.m. to recognize local social justice activists.

The tireless work for racial and economic justice by the late Alameda County Supervisor John George stands as a model for elected officials. The John George Democratic Club strives to keep George’s spirit alive by getting progressive candidates elected to posts in Oakland.

The keynote speech will be delivered by newly elected State Assemblymember Mia Bonta, on the topic “Advancing Democracy for the 2022 Election and Beyond.”  Clearly, reactionary forces on the right are attempting to undermine voting rights and overthrow democracy itself, so all progressives need to mobilize to defeat this attack.

This year the Club will honor Pamela George, daughter of John George, who was the first African American elected to the Alameda Board of Supervisors in 1978.  Come on the 16th to meet Pamela (virtually) and hear more about her work as well her father.

The Club will also give lifetime Social Justice Awards to Geoffrey Pete and Gus Newport, longstanding activists in Oakland and Berkeley.  The Club’s Young Adult Social Justice Award will go to Brandon Waugh, active in the NAACP.  Dr. Noha Aboeleta, founder of the Roots Community Health Center will receive the Public Health & Social Justice Award.  And the Club will honor ILWU Local 10 with the Labor and Social Justice Award, not only for fighting for the rights of its members, but also for its international solidarity efforts from South Africa to Palestine.

You can register for the event at the Club’s website: jgdc.org. For more information, please e-mail the Club at JohnGeorgeDemocraticClub@gmail.com.

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Helping Women Win: Catching Up with LaPhonza Butler, First Black President of EMILY’s List 

When she was just 30 years old, more than 400,0000 members of California’s largest labor union, SEIU Local 2015, elected LaPhonza Butler to be their president. Known for her outspoken, straight-shooting style as well as her poise and even temper, Butler has a reputation for being a leader capable of building bridges and driving consensus.

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LaPhonza Butler/ Emily's List

When she was just 30 years old, more than 400,0000 members of California’s largest labor union, SEIU Local 2015, elected LaPhonza Butler to be their president. Known for her outspoken, straight-shooting style as well as her poise and even temper, Butler has a reputation for being a leader capable of building bridges and driving consensus.

As the head of the largest union of health care workers in the country, Butler led the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 in California.

A respected and trusted political strategist, prominent women in California politics have relied on her advice and understanding of the political ground game to get them elected. Among them are Vice President Kamala Harris, Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell and state Assemblymember Wendy Carillo (D-Boyle Heights). 

Now, at 42, Butler was recently named the president of EMILY’s List, a move that will take her from Los Angeles to Wash., D.C., to head the organization that bills itself as “the country’s largest resource for women in politics.” 

She is the first African American CEO of the organization that says its mission is “to elect democratic, pro-choice women to office and to add diversity to our political leadership.” 

California Black Media spoke with Butler recently about her vision and top priorities for EMILY’s List, her thoughts on how to assist Black and other women of color who feel unsupported by their political parties, and more.  

CBM: Congrats. How does it feel taking over an organization that has done so much to move the needle for women involved in politics?

BUTLER: I’m very excited. I am only the third president of EMILY’s List in our organization’s 36-year history. It is a real point of pride for sure as well as an incredible responsibility.

When I think about my role at EMILY’s List, I think about my 7-year-old daughter and the kind of community she wants to be a part of, and I see this role as an opportunity to make that possible. 

CBM: What are some of your short-term goals? 

BUTLER: It’s still early. This is just day nine for me, but I can tell you conceptually what I want to accomplish.

I want to build power for women voters and women candidates, ensuring that we are first-in-class as it relates to creating an example of an organization with diversity at its center. I want us to win. 

Immediately, I am focused on making sure that we are able to win in Virginia in 2021.  

We must hold the Democratic majority and grow the number of Democratic pro-choice women that are in the Virginia statehouse. We have fantastic candidate for Lieutenant Governor in Hala Ayala. She will be the first Afro-Latina to hold that office if we are successful. 

Also, there is anti-abortion legislation moving forward in states across the country. We are doing the work to engage the electorate at the state and local levels. It is important for us to push back on restrictions on a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions. 

CBM: What’s your longer-term vision? 

BUTLER: Building partners. From working with unions in California, I realize the importance of partnerships, of forming coalitions.  

When we worked to raise the minimum wage, we included small business partners. We included workers. 

What I would like to do with EMILY’s List is to make sure that we are throwing the doors open for every woman – no matter what her financial background may be. If she wants to serve, she can find the resources, training and support that she needs at EMILY’s List.  I want to do that in partnership with organizations like Higher Heights, Emerge, Voto Latino and #VoteProChoice.

CBM: What do you want EMILY’s List to represent for women and girls across America?

BUTLER: I want it to mean that every woman can belong anywhere she chooses and at any decision-making table where she wants to be, assured that her voice will be heard. 

I also want the organization to be able to communicate clearly that whether you are a woman of color, or from a working-class background, or immigrant woman, your place in electoral politics is normal. You’re not a groundbreaker, not a celling breaker. You belong at those tables. 

CBM: What’s your message for men?

BUTLER: I want men to know that they, too, have a place and a role in ensuring that their wives, mothers, sisters, daughters and aunts are capable of being strong leaders, not just in their families, but in the halls of government. 

I want men to know that their resources are welcome in supporting organizations like EMILY’s list to help make the dreams their family members’ dreams come true. 

Black women overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates. They are leaders and grassroots organizers, and they are the most loyal voting bloc in the party. Yet, Black women candidates often point out that they are not always supported with the levels of enthusiasm, endorsements or funding they deserve. What are your thoughts about this problem?

They are legitimate concerns for Black women, specifically, and women of color, generally. Their voices are the last heard if heard at all. Their experiences are the least valued if valued at all. I can surely appreciate and attest to their leadership. 

As it relates to EMILYs list, I want to hear those concerns and I want to understand them. I want to continue to support Black woman, women of color and all women. 

At the same time, I would invite people to take a look at EMILY’s List and the work we have done to support Black women like U.S. Congresswomen Lucy McBath,  Lauren Underwood or Jahana Hayes. These Black women, who ran and won in majority white districts — white Republican districts.  They all had the support of EMILY’s List. 

The new mayor of St. Louis, Tishaura Jones, for example, has also benefitted from the work of EMILY’s List. 

EMILY’s list has a strong history of being an organization created to diversify women holding elected office. And we can do more to work inside a system that wasn’t built for us. A system that we forced our way into and want to continue to be a part of. 

I’ve heard you say in other interviews ‘when women win, we all win.’ What do you mean? 

What we know about women is that when they go to the ballot box, they carry their whole families. They carry their children, their husbands, their mothers, their fathers. They do not only carry those persons as individuals; they also carry their concerns. I made that statement and I believe that when women are in elected office, the choices that they make are representative of entire communities. That is the way that we lead our families. That is the way we lead our civic organizations and churches. 

CBM: Do you have any advice for women who are interested in running for elected office but don’t know how to get started?

BUTLER: I would say reach out to EMILY’s list if she is looking for a way to get started. We actually have an online community called Run to Win that is made up of tens of thousands of women who are contemplating this very question. Our staff gives them advice and I think the most powerful part is that they give advice to each other based on real-life experiences. 

Even if they have doubts, those women should run anyway. Our Congress and state legislatures are filled with women who didn’t win the first time. 

CBM: You went to an HBCU, Jackson State. Does that experience play a role in shaping who you are as an organizer, visionary and person?

BUTLER: I wouldn’t be who I am today or where I am today but for my experience at Jackson State. My fellow Tigers and the professors that I had who were SNCC or CORE organizers, who may have spent their young adulthoods going to jail fighting to expand the right to vote. They took those experiences and poured them into us in the classroom. They provided the intellectual rigor of higher education and combined it with the civic responsibility to continue to push for better, to fight when there is struggle and to lead when no one else will stand.

It is more than just an institution of higher learning. It is a space where you really do come into the fullness and beauty of all that it means to be a Black person in this nation.

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New Documentary Unveils Pauli Murray, Little-Known Civil Rights Activist, Feminist

I’ll admit it; I was not familiar with Pauli Murray.  Honestly, Murray’s extraordinary accomplishments in the years before and after the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement are history lessons many of us didn’t know, until now.

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Pauli Murray/ Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

I’ll admit it; I was not familiar with Pauli Murray.  Honestly, Murray’s extraordinary accomplishments in the years before and after the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement are history lessons many of us didn’t know, until now.

An accessible compilation of mixed media running 91 minutes, “My Name Is Pauli Murray” unearths a revealing journey of extraordinary feats that pre-date the heralded stories of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.  Pauli Murray knew intimately what it meant to live a life that was out of sync—when even language wasn’t sufficient to define or describe a journey. 

Lawyer, professor, poet, and Episcopal priest, Murray was an iconoclast who pushed against the limits—both the conventional and strict legislation and the narrow thinking around issues of race and gender equity. The struggle wasn’t abstract: Murray’s own life —as an African American intellectual whose gender identity felt fluid —personified it. 

Born in 1910, in Baltimore, Md., Pauli was taken in at 3 years old by the maternal wing of the family following the sudden death of Pauli’s mother. Embraced by loving grandparents and two aunts—Pauline and Sarah—Pauli exhibited a proficiency in reading and critical thinking, assessing, early on, the vast discrepancies in conditions African-American families lived in as compared to their white counterparts. Murray’s formative years were spent in a segregated North Carolina where she was among the first to integrate classrooms, courtrooms and conferences to sit alongside the world’s most influential powerbrokers. 

That gulf of injustice settled deep inside. A visionary, Pauli Murray understood that the same arguments employed to assail Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial discrimination could be made to attack gender inequity — and, consequently, these pivotal insights became a professional signature. 

Confidante to President Franklin D. Rooselevelt’s wife Eleanor and  an inspiration to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who cites Murray in her first Supreme Court brief regarding the Equal Protection Clause), Pauli frequently stood in close proximity to power. 

Rejected by the University of North Carolina for being Black, and arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus, Pauli didn’t dodge conflict, even if there was no precedent or model. Yet, there’s often an excruciating price paid for being “ahead of one’s time.” 

Richly recounted in Pauli’s own voice—with archival audio drawn from intimate oral histories and interviews dating back to the 1970s — Pauli’s timely story is augmented by testimonies from a host of contemporary thinkers, educators, and present-day civil rights activists and there are many parallels to today’s ongoing struggle for racial and gender equality.

Murray’s story, artfully told, with the help of editor (pronounced syn-quay) Northern, a former Bay Area resident, and filmmakers Betty West, Julie Cohen, and Talleah Bridges. The film is showing at theaters now from Amazon Studios and releases on Prime video on October 1.

Northern is an artist, filmmaker, and editor who’s been working in documentary for over 18 years. He has edited numerous projects for PBS including “America by the Numbers” featuring Maria Hinojosa and “Your Voice Your Story.” He also spent 10 years working as a lead editor for Stanley Nelson’s Firelight Media (“Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool,” “Black Panthers”). To date, he has over a dozen short films on permanent display at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, along with the 2021 documentary, “The One and Only Dick Gregory.”

I spoke with Cinque Northern about this absorbing retelling of Pauli Murray (b.1910-d.1985). Please see the link to a portion of our conversation below.

Download link
https://wetransfer.com/downloads/f45303a149989a34ad4a92a9d76cbf1820210927193714/a77cded8dbbca5c4c28756bea57a756620210927193714/14a142

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