Seventeen unionized workers from the Strand Bookstore sat around two long, white tables in the back of Pie, a pizza parlor near Union Square on Thursday night. Between sips of beer they calmly talked about the shop, their pay and what to do next.
During a lull, William Bobrowski said, “Wow, you guys are so much calmer than you’ve been in weeks.”
The workers, along with the Strand’s roughly 140 other union workers, had just concluded a four-day vote on the management’s latest contract offer. As expected, it was rejected because many of the employees felt that it would have significantly reduced their benefits.
The president of their local union branch declined to share the vote totals because he did not want to give the management of the bookstore, also near Union Square in Manhattan, any leverage in the next stage of negotiations, set begin next week.
The rejected proposal would have frozen pay for one year, increased the amount that employees pay toward their health care plan, decreased annual personal days to five from nine, and implemented several other cost-cutting provisions.
It would have also created a two-tier system, in which employees hired after September 2011 would receive less attractive benefit and wage packages. Some workers said this would lead to resentment among staff members.
The Strand’s general manager, Eddie Sutton, said the proposal’s aim was to compensate for declining sales, which have fallen roughly 5 percent over all since 2008. Larger bookstores, Internet vendors and e-book sales have contributed to the decrease, though the 55,000-square-foot Strand remains popular with book lovers and tourists.
Now, both sides say they will try to quickly find an agreement that bolsters the store’s business and preserves worker benefits, though it is unclear how or when that will be accomplished.
“No one ever gets exactly what they want, but we’ll figure something out,” Mr. Sutton, 55, said. “We’ll just have to be creative.”
Mr. Bobrowski, 31, who works in the Strand’s basement and acts as a kind of liaison between employees and management, said he and his colleagues would spend the next week prioritizing. “People have to do some thinking,” he said. “That puts a lot of weight on everybody’s shoulders.”
Leading up to the vote, employees met several times with their union leadership at the United Auto Workers’ Local 2179 to discuss the proposal. These discussions sometimes became raucous when employees loudly complained about the benefit cuts.
But the president of the local branch, Pablo Valcarcel, said this was not uncommon during contract negotiations, especially with Strand employees.
“We had it last contract, the one before, and the one before,” said Mr. Valcarcel, 69. “They always say, ‘Well, they have a million dollars.’ And I say to them, ‘If you had only $200, would you give me $200?’”
Day-to-day operations at the Strand have not changed, and Mr. Sutton said he did not anticipate an impasse.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to get this done rapidly,” Mr. Sutton said. “We’d like to get on with the business of the bookstore.”