Credit Claims For Boston Retail Workers: Legal Considerations For Professional Growth – H ADLEY — Images of a sprawling suburban strip mall, and Route 9, may come to mind in this western Massachusetts town. The busy commercial corridor is dotted with curb strips and parking lots, with neatly painted lines and weeds pushing cracks in the asphalt. National brands fill one low-key storefront after another: Home Depot, Whole Foods, Marshalls, Ulta.

But the half-mile stretch of road between Amherst and Northampton is unusual for one reason: It’s become a hotbed for labor activism.

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Starting last year, workers at three big-box stores — Trader Joe’s, Barnes & Noble, and Michaels — formed unions in and around the Mountain Farms mall. Each became the first freestanding location in their respective national chains to organize, transforming an anonymous shopping center into a hub of the next generation labor movement.

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“A lot of people don’t expect this to happen in Hadley,” an agricultural hamlet better known for its asparagus farms and flower stands, said Jamie Edwards, president of Trader Joe’s United and a night crew member at the grocer. “I mean, why would that happen in this small town with as many cows as humans? It was here, people saw what was possible. “

Claire Hammonds, a professor of practice at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Labor Center, said the simplest explanation for the boom is word of mouth.

In the private sector, unionization was traditionally reserved for industries such as coal or construction, where skilled workers could organize collectively for better pay and working conditions. But since Covid struck, service and retail workers have taken cues from each other and started organizing in industries that are typically seen as lower-skilled and more temporary. That’s a big reason why the number of unionized workers nationwide rose 2 percent last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Call it the contagion effect with labor activity,” Hammonds said. “When workers actually win a union and start that process, it raises expectations at nearby locations that are similar in the sense that they are corporate retail jobs.”

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This story echoes Meg Yosef’s experience. Early in the pandemic, the 42-year-old Trader Joe’s employee felt the company had ignored safety standards and withheld information about government-subsidized Covid sick leave from him and his co-workers. Those complaints bubbled up in him when he watched the NBC sitcom “Superstore” and saw the characters unite, and again when Starbucks baristas were organized into one-on-one locations across the country. If they can do it, thought Yusuf, why can’t we?

Early last year, he and Edwards pitched the idea of ​​a union to their Trader Joe’s colleagues. By that July, the vote fell 45-31 in favor. Their drive inspired Barnes and Noble workers across the street in May; Barnes & Noble gave Michaels Five Doors Down hope in August; etc.

“We can’t take credit for all of this,” Yosef added. “But when people say they are inspired by what we do, it feels good. What emerges from this is this triad of unity. We may not talk all the time, but we support each other on social media. We go to each other’s rallies. We see each other in the parking lot. “

It helps that the Pioneer Valley is home to five colleges — UMass, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire, Smith, and Amherst College — and thousands of progressive students, said Drew Weisse, an organizer with UFCW Local 1459, which workers at both Barnes and Noble. represents and Michaels. Many retail workers are college students or recent graduates, educated about the economy and the declining cost of food and lodging. Add to that persistent concerns about higher education debt, and you’re left with a legion of radicalized young people ready to demand more.

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“They have very little to lose when going for something like this,” Weiss said. “The alternative is to take the minimum wage and just hope. They have expected. “

Just ask Peter Boots-Faubert, a framer at Michaels who graduated from UMass Amherst last year with a wealth of knowledge about political activism, union busting, and the intertwined histories of labor and folk music. When a union began to emerge, Boots-Faubert jumped in “without thinking.”

Or Alex Sussman. The 19-year-old cashier at Michaels and part-time student at Holyoke Community College saw what needed to change at work soon after starting work in November. The company schedules employees irregularly and provides little training, especially when it comes to janitorial duties. On top of all that, Michaels’ pay sits below the $16 to $18 average paid to workers at nearby stores, Sussman said.

“I’m a Gen Z college student,” Sussman said. “I feel like the world is going up in flames around me, and I don’t have much hope for the future. Moving to another job is not going to change anything. But I can change my work and make it better for the people working there now and the people working there in the future.”

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And they’re doing it in a place with a deep history of labor activism. Western Massachusetts was once at the forefront of the abolitionist movement and often finds itself at the forefront of the crusade on LGBTQ+ issues. Thousands of Stop & Shop workers in Massachusetts have long been organized, and growers and trimmers at Pittsfield cannabis company Berkshire Roots joined a union in 2020. In the early 1900s, the area exploded with union activity, Elizabeth Armstrong said. Professor of Women and Gender at Smith College.

This is when western Massachusetts was a hub for metal workers, making everything from cutlery to firearms in the Connecticut River Valley. By the 1930s, those skilled workers turned to the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America union, Armstrong added. And the most surprising part? They avoided the “closed-rank system” and included everyone—women, immigrants, and workers of all races.

Once heralded for its asparagus farms and flower stands, Hadley – the town where Jamie Edwards works – has a new claim to fame in the union polls. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The union eventually weakened, but “the concentration of UE union workers created a kind of extremism that permeated the culture,” said Armstrong, a two-decade resident of the area. “When you live here, you can feel the old pro-union base. It’s quiet and subtle, almost bubbling beneath the surface.”

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Now, many of Hadley’s workers hope the sentiment will continue as Michaels workers prepare to vote to form a union next week. And with Trader Joe’s and Barnes & Noble workers going through the difficult process of negotiating their first contracts, each has time and money to hash things out against the company.

Trader Joe’s workers have also filed multiple complaints against the company with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that it bargained in bad faith and fired a union employee without cause. (The company has not commented on the allegations.)

Yet hope remains for a fairer Hadley, where the everyday worker is king. Clark Daniels, a Barnes & Noble senior bookseller, envisions a future where the town turns into a union mecca, where the rural mall between stables and barns becomes a destination for thousands of organized workers — perhaps at Marshalls or Panera Bread. Closing costs, including several fees related to title insurance, have been requested by Peter Ott for the Dorchester home he and his partner now own. (Jesse Costa/)

Earlier this year, Peter Ott and his partner sat at a table in their lawyer’s office, signing a thick stack of papers to buy their first home. Like most people, they agreed to a lot of closing costs.

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The title to the property carried a number of major costs – indicating the couple’s legal right to own the Dorchester property, and that no one else could lay claim to it. They had to buy insurance on the title to protect the bank, the lawyer said. He also recommends that they purchase a second, optional, title insurance policy for themselves, just in case.

Combined, the policies will cost around $4,800. What the attorney didn’t say: About 80% of that money would go to his law firm.

“The whole idea behind hiring a real estate attorney is that they are representing you and your best interests.” Peter Ott

Ott’s experience is common in Massachusetts, where title insurance is a big moneymaker for lawyers and insurance companies. It is a murky business with a light level of regulation in the country. And in this state, title insurers pay large, hidden commissions to attorneys, found, and unwittingly bill homebuyers. Expenses are buried in the rush of the biggest financial transactions most people make.

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“A lot of that premium that you pay is actually going back to your real estate attorney,” Ott said. Yet home buyers have no way of knowing this, and lawyers are not required to tell them.

“The whole idea behind hiring a real estate attorney is that they are representing you and your best interests,” Ott, 35, said. That’s from a legal standpoint, he said, “but hopefully also from a financial standpoint.”

In 2020, Massachusetts home buyers bought about $403

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