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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

Tiny Homes Offer Hope for Holidays and Beyond

We are accepting applications for volunteers and accepting donations that we can use to build Tiny Homes. You might have things in your house or garage you haven’t used or extra construction tools, a bag of stud nails, used doors, windows, roofing materials, lumber, metal, hardwood flooring, sheetrock tape, paints, and anything that we can recycle to build and add to our Tiny Homes. 

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As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.
As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.

By Dr. Maritony A. Yamot and Rev. Ken Lackey

The holidays are the season when we stop and begin to think, “How can I give back this year and what are some different ways to help out?”

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help out during the holidays that don’t cost a thing. The Tiny Homes Project — with Rev. Ken Lackey of the Center for the Perfect Marriage Church at 6101 International Blvd. — needs to increase its capacity and we wanted to remind our community that everybody matters to God.

As chief operations officer for The Tiny Homes Project, I join Lackey in expressing gratitude for the support that the Oakland Post, as our media partner, has helped us with in gathering community and faith-based leaders to help solve our increasing homeless problem in the Bay Area. We can no longer ignore homelessness in Oakland, which has now reached a humanitarian crisis.

We want to launch an intensive month-long generosity campaign to help the increasing homeless issues in our neighborhoods by adding to the number of tiny homes that we have already built at various private locations in Oakland.

We invite you to join us as we partner with some of Oakland’s fabulous nonprofit organizations to meet critical needs in our communities.

Whether through donation or action, there are plenty of opportunities to give.

We are accepting applications for volunteers and accepting donations that we can use to build Tiny Homes. You might have things in your house or garage you haven’t used or extra construction tools, a bag of stud nails, used doors, windows, roofing materials, lumber, metal, hardwood flooring, sheetrock tape, paints, and anything that we can recycle to build and add to our Tiny Homes.

We are also looking for vehicle donations of trailers or any truck for hauling material and picking up volunteers and homeless people that are helping to build Tiny Homes. We build our homes with primarily donated and surplus materials, allowing us to cut costs and provide a pleasant home for under $40,000.

Each and every person who wants to help out and eradicate the homeless problem in the City of Oakland can donate funds for us to build a Tiny Home. If donors want to give money to the ministry, we will build a tiny home and name it after them. Know that your donations will be able to take a whole family off the street during this cold season.

In addition, we are open to getting a sponsor or sponsors for an entire Tiny Homes Community Park and we have a separate location that will be designated for homeless veterans, the elderly, single mothers or single fathers, and any individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, such as those living in emergency shelters, transitional housing, places not meant for habitation, or sleeping on our streets.

Please spread the word and contact us about any way you can help our Tiny Homes Community Project with Rev. Ken Lackey.

There are three ways to contact us

  1. By Phone/toll-free number: 1-833-233-8900 ext. 1
  2. By Email: TinyHomesC@gmail.com
  3. By Appointment/Donation Drop off location at the All About Grits Restaurant at 6101 International Blvd., Oakland, CA

Or you can attend our next two major events:

  1. Tiny Homes Fundraising Event on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022. Place to be announced.
  2. Tiny Homes Community Building Workshop with the help of our community and local partners in the Bay Area. Date and place to be announced.

Contact us for more details of these two events or any ways you can help in this season.

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Activism

Faith Baptist Church Becomes Oakland’s First Official Resiliency Hub

Faith Baptist Church was the recipient of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Legacy Award. Faith was chosen out of a pool of dozens of applicants for the award. The key differentiator was the Solar Battery Storage project. With that, Faith Baptist has the ability to totally exit the PG&E grid and generate 100% energy from its solar panels. That makes Faith Baptist a potential energy distributor.

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As members of the community that comprise Faith Baptist Church look on, California Interfaith Power and Light Executive Director Susan Stephenson, left (in white jacket), hands scissors to the eldest member of Faith Baptist for the ribbon cutting on Nov. 14 while Pastor Curtis Robinson stands just behind him. Also pictured are District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb (white hair, white shirt) and to his right (multi-colored top) is Shayna Hirschfield-Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager. Photo courtesy of Faith Baptist Church and California Interfaith Power and Light.
As members of the community that comprise Faith Baptist Church look on, California Interfaith Power and Light Executive Director Susan Stephenson, left (in white jacket), hands scissors to the eldest member of Faith Baptist for the ribbon cutting on Nov. 14 while Pastor Curtis Robinson stands just behind him. Also pictured are District 1 Councilmember Dan Kalb (white hair, white shirt) and to his right (multi-colored top) is Shayna Hirschfield-Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager. Photo courtesy of Faith Baptist Church and California Interfaith Power and Light.

By Curtis O. Robinson, Sr., M.A., Harvard University fellow, ’19, Senior Pastor, Faith Baptist Church

So, when I say that Faith Baptist is Oakland’s first Resiliency Hub, the first question that many people ask is, “what is a resiliency hub?”

In an article from the Christian Science Monitor entitled “Resilience hubs: A new approach to crisis response,” the author writes, “Things that shock a community have to do with climate, but more urgently they have to do with systemic inequities.”

He was referring to police shootings, civic unrest, the growth of homeless encampments and more. The resiliency hub approach to these inequities uses a respected local organization, such as a church or community center, and bolsters it to help neighborhoods prepare for crises — hurricanes, heat waves, pandemics or unrest — and to respond and recover from them.

When Faith was approached with the idea of solar panels for its rooftop as a source of heat, the decision was relatively a no-brainer.

As a House of Worship, there is a collective emphasis on the workings of God in the universe. The first job that God gave humanity was to tend the Garden. When it comes to environmental justice, our goal then is to take care of this place called planet Earth.

The world is now in an environmental tailspin. However, with technology that teaches us how to create sustainable outcomes, sprinkled with common sense, we can achieve an environmental balance that can create safe spaces environmentally for our children and for our future.

Faith Baptist Church was the recipient of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Legacy Award. Faith was chosen out of a pool of dozens of applicants for the award. The key differentiator was the Solar Battery Storage project.

With that, Faith Baptist has the ability to totally exit the PG&E grid and generate 100% energy from its solar panels. That makes Faith Baptist a potential energy distributor.

With the help of California Interfaith Power and Light and energy experts from the U.S. Green Building Council, we held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 14.

Joining us, among others, were Susan Stephenson, executive director of California Interfaith Power and Light, Oakland City Councilman Dan Kalb of District 1, Shayna Hirschfield- Gold, Oakland’s Climate Program manager and members of Faith Baptist and the Pentecostal community that shares our space and Green Building volunteers.

We bask in the glory of energy independence, because we now tap into clean energy from above and not dirty energy from below.

Publisher’s note: Rev Curtis Robinson also is a columnist for the God on Wall Street column for the Post News Group.

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Activism

March Against Fear: When ‘Black Power’ Became Mainstream

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

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James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)
James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. (Photo: Marion S. Trikosko, the United States Library of Congress.)

By Tamara Shiloh

It was June 5, 1966.

James Howard Meredith (born 1933), on a mission to encourage Black voter registration and defy entrenched racism in the South, set out on a solitary walk from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi.

On the second day of his journey, Aubrey Norvell, a white gunman, waited on a roadside a few miles south of Hernando, Mississippi. He ambushed Meredith, shooting him in the neck, head, and back.

Within 24 hours, the nation’s three principal civil rights organizations vowed to continue the march: the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Success of the event could not be predicted. Leaders were aware that last-minute planning of a march could be dangerous, and the route chosen was not without uncertainty. The three-week march led to death threats, arrests, and the use of tear gas. Internal tensions surrounding leadership swelled and use of the slogan “Black Power” became a revolutionary phrase urging self-determination and Black pride.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of Black veterans from World War II who believed in armed self-defense, provided protection for participants. Founded in Jonesboro, La., in 1964, The Deacons for Defense had already protected civil rights activists from the Ku Klux Klan. About 20 chapters were created throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

The march ended on June 22, 1966. Meredith, sufficiently recovered, had been able to rejoin the event. Participants supporting Meredith along the way joined in, making the total number of marchers arriving in Jackson about 15,000. The March Against Fear was one of the largest marches in history for that geographical area. It was during the post-march rally that Stokely Carmichael first used the phrase “we want Black Power” during a public speech.

Carmichael sought to define the quest for Black Power in constructive terms, explaining to supporters in Detroit that “Black votes created Black Power…That doesn’t mean that we are anti-white. We are just developing Black pride.”

Meredith had become well known when he successfully challenged the Kennedy administration to protect his civil rights. His application for admission to the University of Mississippi, dubbed Ole Miss, had been twice denied. With backing from the NAACP, he filed suit for racial discrimination.

After heavy negotiations with U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Meredith was permitted to enroll at Ole Miss but only under escort of federal troops. He graduated in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

What began as a solitary peaceful protest for voter registration became one of the South’s most important demonstrations of the civil rights movement. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmichael formed unlikely alliances that resulted in the Black Power movement. This ushered in a new era in the fight for equality.

Understand the complex issues of fear, injustice, and the challenges of change in Anne Bausum’s “The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power.”

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