Push for workers’ rights spreads to one of Albuquerque’s last indie bookstores

Employees look to form a union at Page 1 Books seeking better pay, water and air conditioning

By: - July 26, 2022 5:00 am

Tori Cardenas and Heather Freeman, employees of Page 1 Books, hold up the number one to indicate the bookstore’s iconic name on the morning of Saturday, July 23, 2022. (Photo by Shelby Wyatt / Source NM)

Tori Cardenas’ shift at Page 1 Books on Friday was better than most. Sitting in his car after clocking out from a day of lifting books that afternoon, it was 102 degrees Fahrenheit in Albuquerque.

“It was pretty good,” he said. “Today was one of the better days, even though it’s 100 degrees out. It’s not super hot in the store, so not too bad today.”

The last couple of weeks, though, when outdoor temperatures have reached 105 degrees, it gets “super hot in there.”

Cardenas, of Taos, is a former writing instructor and graduate worker at UNM with a master’s degree in poetry. He makes $12 per hour working in the receiving area at Page 1.

The entrance to Page 1 faces West, with tall windows that absorb the heat from the sun in the afternoon. There is air conditioning in the building, but it can’t handle the sun’s heat, Cardenas said.

“I heard that they were going to put shades in at some point, and I don’t know if that ever happened,” he said.

The heat not only leaves the workers sweaty but also bleaches the books that face the windows, he said.

“Shades would benefit not only us, our living bodies, but the books, our inventory,” Cardenas said.

He regularly talks with his coworkers about the fact that there is one fan in the front of the store, and one in the receiving area, where there is no air conditioning.

“That’s usually where we get together and complain — not by the water cooler, by the fan,” Cardenas said.

There is a large hole in the wall where, until about a month ago, there used to be a water fountain, he said. On Friday, Cardenas had no indication that the water fountain would ever return. To stay hydrated, he must bring his own water bottle and buy more at the Smith’s around the corner.

“I’ve asked, but it’s always just been like, ‘Oh, you know, we’re looking into it,’” he said.

Earlier this month, the bookstore workers reached out to the Industrial Workers of the World for help to form a union.

Cardenas hopes the union will give the workers the ability to have a say in things like water and air conditioning. Workers at Page 1 also struggle under chronic understaffing and stagnant wages, said Heather Freeman, a bookseller there.

“We’ve lost some people to better paying jobs, different jobs, whatever the case may be,” Freeman said. “And those positions have been very slow to be filled.”

Cardenas said the high turnover at Page 1 leaves new people dealing with the same issues handed down by former workers. Freeman said staffing is not where it was before she joined the company nearly a year ago, and certainly not up to the level it was before the pandemic started.

“For most of us, we’re kind of having to fill multiple roles — and also work the register — on any given day, in any given week,” Freeman said.

The starting wage at Page 1 is $12 per hour, she said. That’s just 50 cents higher than what’s legally required by the local minimum wage law.

The company is not offering wages commensurate with rising costs of fuel, food and housing in New Mexico, she said.

“People are frustrated for themselves, for their own wages to an extent, but also that we can’t hire as competitively because they’re not offering competitive wages,” Freeman said.

Individual workers have tried to raise the issue of wage stagnation with Steven Stout, the bookstore’s owner, she said. There are raises, she said, but they seem random.

“We don’t get explanations,” Freeman said.

Only unionized bookstore in NM

Page 1 Books has been an Albuquerque institution since the 1980s, said Julian Trujillo, the delegate for the Albuquerque general membership branch of the IWW.

“A lot of us — including myself — we all grew up going to Page 1 to look at books, buy stuff, and the fact that it’s one of the last surviving good independent bookstores in Albuquerque,” he said.

Other than the Starbucks on Rio Grande and I-40, this is one of the newest union campaigns in Albuquerque, Trujillo said. He’s not aware of any other unionized bookstore anywhere in New Mexico.

It is also the first non-chain independent small shop union campaign in Albuquerque in a long time, he said. He couldn’t recall one in recent memory.

Cards show unanimous support

Workers at Page 1 have been talking about unionizing for about two months now, Freeman said, and they got union authorization cards on July 5.

Since then, the union drive has been moving quickly. Freeman said all 10 non-management employees at the bookstore have signed union authorization cards expressing their intent to form a union.

“Pretty much everybody has been on board right away, or after a couple of quick conversations,” she said.

As of Friday, the company had not voluntarily recognized the union, she said. 

No comment

Stout did not respond to a phone call and two emails on July 22 seeking comment on whether he will voluntarily recognize the union. We’ll update this story if we hear back.

Page 1 workers found inspiration and guidance on organizing from workers at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, Calif. Cardenas used to be a graduate student worker at UNM, and had prior experience with organizers from IWW who lent their experience from organizing the shop at Moe’s.

Freeman said they chose to affiliate with the IWW in part because it gives individual unions independence.

“It’s not a giant top-down organization,” Freeman said.

Trujillo sees Page 1, the union of Starbucks baristas at Rio Grande and I-40, and graduate workers and United Academics at UNM as part of a larger campaign in New Mexico to increase labor visibility, increase workers’ rights locally, push back against abusive bosses, “and re-assert our rights as workers.”

“Largely the pandemic forced people to take a step back, and when they came back to work, they realized that their jobs sucked,” he said, “and the benefits sucked, and the bosses would happily let them die in order to make a quick buck off their corpses.”


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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.