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Labyrinth union holds demonstration as disagreements with management persist

About fifteen people are shown gathered around a table of books, with one person holding a microphone.
Pro-union demonstrators gathered in Labyrinth Books the morning of Feb. 13.
Calvin Grover / The Daily Princetonian

On a typical morning, Labyrinth Books opens its doors to patrons at 10 a.m. The morning of Tuesday, Feb. 13, the store’s opening was briefly disrupted by a demonstration inside the store. Around 20 people participated in the protest, including Labyrinth employees, Princeton students, and others who gathered for about ten minutes in the store to present a letter detailing complaints against the store’s management.

Demonstrators voiced concerns about what they see as ongoing challenges such as “understaffing and intimidation” that have arisen following the announcement of Labyrinth employees’ intent to unionize and the subsequent official recognition of their union last month.


“We, the employees of Labyrinth, call on management to immediately commence hiring staff to replace the full-time employees who have left, and to immediately cease the unreasonable one-on-one meetings to reprimand the otherwise permissible behavior of staff,” employee Matt Macaulay stated, reading aloud from a letter that was also posted to the union’s Instagram account.

The Daily Princetonian spoke with both union organizers and store management to assemble a portrait of the disputes presented in the letter.

Staffing turnover

Much of the letter addressed what Rebecca Ziemann, an employee who participated in the demonstration, called a “real staffing crisis” in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ Ziemann noted that being shorthanded “not only impacts us, but also impacts the customers because we can’t attend to them as well as we could if we were fully staffed.”

The letter alleged that Labyrinth management has aimed to “shrink the bargaining unit” by “intentionally understaffing the store.” The letter further claimed that this work was being undertaken via the hiring of a “union-busting attorney” after workers announced their intent to unionize on Dec. 21. The letter claimed the “central goal” of this attorney was “to constrain our democratic effort to create a union and vote on a fair contract.”

Labyrinth owner Dorothea von Moltke refuted this claim, writing in a statement to the ‘Prince,’ “We voluntarily recognized the union and have never engaged in union-busting activities. To call our lawyer a union buster is only to say that he is negotiating on an employer’s behalf.”


The letter addressed the store owners’ voluntary recognition of the union, announced on Jan. 9. This acknowledgment came despite initial indications from store owners that they would wait for an official employee vote to recognize unionization. 

“We all really appreciate this recognition,” Tuesday’s letter stated, “but we wish it could have come sooner, and without burning thousands of dollars on anti-democratic advice.”

Additionally, the union’s letter referenced the recent termination of a temporary worker, stating that while management previously said this termination would occur in “mid-February,” the employee was terminated Feb. 2 “during [the store’s] busy coursebook rush” — halfway through Princeton University’s undergraduate add/drop period for courses.

The ‘Prince’ was unable to independently verify the date of the temporary employee’s dismissal.

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Maria DiPasquale, a spokesperson for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), said in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that “this worker is a very vocal union supporter.”

Von Moltke, however, seemed to claim that the early termination was due to decreased demand. “The workers complaining about staffing are wholly unaware of the store’s labor costs or needs, and are making assumptions not backed up by facts,” she wrote to the ‘Prince.’

She noted that Labyrinth’s book sales have sharply declined following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and that “this drop in sales has meant we need fewer temporary employees, and we need them for a shorter period of time. When coursebook season is over, we have always reduced the staff to arrive at the staff level necessary to run the store.”

“It is true that the unionizing staff has decreased recently. But we have not terminated any full-time employees or regular part-time employees,” von Moltke continued. “It’s worth noting that temporary employees are not part of the bargaining unit.”

Tension in the workplace

In addition to points about staffing, the letter also discussed recent occurrences within Labyrinth of managers tapping staff for meetings “to be reprimanded and intimidated for behaviors that cannot be reasonably construed to be punishable.” The letter alleged that management has sent email communications about these meetings while cc’ing attorneys, which the union believes is motivated by a desire to “provide the grounds for future termination.”

While Ziemann saw these meetings as a “common tactic” of “intimidating workers so they won’t fight back,” von Moltke argued that communication difficulties have been caused by the union. 

“Since the formation of the [union],” she wrote, “communication in the store has been made difficult by ongoing organizing activity in the store, the use of cell phones in unauthorized ways to holding constant communication, small impromptu meetings, whisper-campaigns, [and] defensive refusal to speak to managers or the owner without undue formality.”

She added that the emergence of the union has prompted the store to “formalize” management and “enforce existing policies in the face of intransigence.”

Von Moltke emphasized the dynamic nature of job duties at Labyrinth. “Bookselling has never been limited to certain activities,” she wrote. “A good bookseller understands the whole store. It can take years to gain that kind of experience.”

In an earlier interview with the ‘Prince,’ Ziemann described her job at Labyrinth as “part warehouse, labor heavy job [where] you’re lugging boxes of books around, and part detail-oriented data entry work.”

On Tuesday, she reflected on her experience doing this job during the most recent coursebook season, noting that temporary workers during these busy periods usually help with filling student orders, which allows workers like herself to complete their typical tasks “in a timely manner.” During this cycle, she said, “we couldn’t focus on actually receiving books.”

Student support as unionization process continues

In addition to the group of Labyrinth employees present for the demonstration, Princeton students accounted for a significant portion of demonstrators. 

Princeton Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) Steering Committee Co-Chair Abraham Jacobs ’26 told the ‘Prince’ that the Labyrinth union reached out to Princeton YDSA with a request to send students to support the employees’ efforts — basically, he said, they “ask[ed] us if we could bring bodies.” 

Jacobs said that Princeton YDSA has maintained a relationship with the union in the past few weeks as unionization efforts have progressed, and that the student group is “always in solidarity” with local unions.

Despite disagreements between employees and management, the union is officially recognized (and has been since Jan. 10), meaning collective bargaining is the next major milestone — a process which takes, on average, over a year. 

Even given the voluntary recognition of the union, Ziemann said that “in the past month, [management has] done a number of things to really underscore that they don’t actually respect our right to unionize.”

DiPasquale explained that those involved are currently still preparing for the bargaining stage. For example, she said, stakeholders need to decide on a neutral location for bargaining, and employees must elect a bargaining committee.

Von Molkte noted in her statement, “At this time, we have provided the union dates to begin negotiations on a first contract, and we await their response.”

Annie Rupertus is a head News editor for the ‘Prince.’

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