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Mother Kali's caught in labor dispute.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

They're the kind of labor complaints you'd expect against a corporate juggernaut: Abuse of power. Disrespect. Unfair firings.

But Mother Kali's Books? The oldest feminist bookstore in the state and one of Eugene's progressive institutions?

"I hate to see the progressives vs. the progressives in Eugene," said Chuck Hunt, a sociology adjunct professor at the University of Oregon. "But you have to stand up for labor."

Hunt was among about 25 protesters who marched on the university-area store Monday, demanding the removal of the board of directors for perceived violations of employee rights.

The modest, 28-year-old bookstore's four employees recently filed an unfair labor practice claim, saying the board wrongly fired them and took their health benefits in January.

But board President Kathleen Kendrick said it was critical - and legal - to drop the staff without paying their health benefits to address financial woes that could break the store.

"They're four good women. We're all on the same side," Kendrick said. "We want this little, fun bookstore to continue to serve the community."

Mother Kali's, named for a Hindu goddess, was born in the third wave of the women's movement in the late 1970s and run by a collective of activists. Today, the board-run nonprofit business includes popular fiction and mystery titles, gardening books, authors such as Judy Grahn and magazines such as "Ms."

But the store is in the red, Kendrick said, and its bread-and-butter - textbook sales to the UO - has dropped by almost half, although sales are starting to rebound.

Mother Kali's future is tied in part to an anonymous donor who supports a new business plan and a recently hired manager, Karen Luna, who replaces the four staff members, Kendrick said. A part-time position also is under consideration.

Kendrick traced the store's downward spiral back five years to the death of longtime manager Izzie Harbaugh, a dynamic woman and champion of the store who routinely donated her salary to make the store work.

As a succession of inexperienced but devoted board members struggled with store operation, personality clashes bubbled up, costing the store valuable textbook agreements and culminating with the staff quitting in October 2002, Kendrick said.

The current staff felt those employees were forced from their jobs, and they organized with the Industrial Workers of the World last summer. The board recognized the union but "no one from the union approached (the board) to collectively bargain," Kendrick said.

But Jeanine Malito, an IWW member and a representative for the staff, said employees requested to bargain.

"They were fired and the store is planning to reopen with new staff," she added. "When you have a union, that's not legal."

The National Labor Relations Board will sort the whole thing out, and Kendrick said she's looking forward to telling store management's side of the story.

Both sides are also considering mediation, and that's encouraging to people like Alicia Hays, a longtime customer.

"It's important to have in our community an independent, women's-run bookstore with a feminist perspective," she said. "I don't think we need to lose it over a labor problem."


Labor activist Mark Ross sings union songs with other activists and locked-out employees of Mother Kali's Books in front of the East 13th Avenue business on Monday. The feminist bookstore has been a progressive institution in Eugene for decades. "They're four good women. We're all on the same side. We want this little, fun bookstore to continue to serve the community."- KATHLEEN KENDRICK, MOTHER KALI'S BOARD PRESIDENT
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Title Annotation:Working; The progressive feminist bookstore is the target of a protest march after the recently unionized staff is fired
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 10, 2004
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