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NLRB declines to rule on bookstore's practices.

Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard

Financially ailing Mother Kali's Books has taken some drastic steps to try to stay afloat, but whether breaking federal labor laws was among them may never be known.

The National Labor Relations Board said Monday that it won't rule on allegations of unfair labor practices against Mother Kali's Books because the bookstore doesn't meet the threshold for review.

The 28-year-old feminist bookstore near the University of Oregon has long tried to unite and empower women, but the four-woman staff in January said the store's board of directors failed to negotiate with the store's labor union, refused workers access to health care benefits, and terminated the workers.

Cathleen Callahan of the Portland-based division of the labor relations board said the agency won't rule on the allegations because the bookstore has gross sales of less than $500,000 a year, a threshold that the board sets for retail enterprises.

Whether the complaints have merit "is irrelevant," Callahan said. "I'm not going to speculate as to whether or not they have merit."

Mother Kali's ex-employees may appeal the decision to the board's Washington, D.C., office, but must do so by Monday. Their plans were unknown Monday; none of them returned calls from The Register-Guard.

Mother Kali's Board President Kathleen Kendrick called the labor board's decision a victory.

"We invited the NLRB's assessment of the situation, knowing that no labor violations had been committed, and welcome their ruling," Kendrick said.

"As the National Labor Relations Board independent ruling supports, Mother Kali's has been and remains committed to the feminist ethics and practices we live and breathe."

The board eliminated the four-woman staff in January, citing a debt as high as $60,000. The debt was as much as 12 percent to 15 percent of annual gross revenue, Kendrick has said. The board replaced the staff with a full-time manager and one part-time employee.

The store expects to be solvent through the fall, but will rely heavily on spring textbook sales to the UO that peak next week.

Kendrick said early signs are good, with professors having placed orders in numbers comparable to a year ago.

"Professors are seeing beyond this small perception of a store that laid off its workers unfairly," she said. "They're able to see that, like the rest of the state and perhaps the country, we're suffering in hard economic times."
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Title Annotation:Business; Mother Kali's is too small a business to qualify for federal intervention
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 23, 2004
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