[box type=”info”]Correction: Carolyn Gillis said she was concerned employees might leave to find other jobs, not that they already had.[/box]
The King’s Co-op Bookstore is test-driving a cut to employees’ hours, and the cuts start Monday.
The board says the store isn’t selling enough to cover costs and cutting hours is the immediate solution. It’s decided to cut employees’ hours by 10 to 15 hours a week, starting Monday Nov. 4, and asked manager Carolyn Gillis to prepare reports on the effects of possible, more drastic cuts to student hours.
The store is suffering, according to some, because King’s staff and students are not buying enough books. It’s a reality people have to face, says Gillis, the bookstore’s manager since it opened in 2006.
“King’s needs to realize if they want their bookstore, they have to support it with their wallets,” said Gillis. The bookstore is a cooperative, meaning customers, mostly King’s students, buy into the co-op with a membership fee and can vote at general meetings.
The store has nine employees and typically two people work at once. Getting the necessary work done will be difficult, said Gillis, with fewer hours going around.
“I’m not in favour of the cuts,” she said, “but I understand why they made that decision.”
She said she fears some staff members may quit to look for better hours elsewhere, and that it could negatively impact customer service.
Staff member Brandon Tolliver confirmed that hours are being cut on Monday by two hours per employee to start. The board has asked Gillis to prepare a report of the effects and savings of cutting 25, 50 and 75 per cent of staff hours.
The idea was first put forward by board chair Stephanie Duchon.
“Cutting hours is the simplest way to start,” said Duchon. “It is the biggest cost.”
Even though staff hours are taking the hit, she said, the store still will offer textbooks at a fair price.
The board currently doesn’t have any other plans to reduce costs, said Duchon.
Getting people in the store has been a challenge, said Gillis, and it has affected sales. The staff has tried to brainstorm ideas to increase traffic, but she said it’s hard.
“The biggest hurdle is its location,” said Gillis. “It’s invisible.”
The store has tried different promotions to increase the bookstore’s revenue, including advertising all over the South End by putting flyers in mail boxes and ads in local news publications. The cost of advertising was too high and the bookstore couldn’t continue the effort without seeing results for the expensive outreach.
Student staff members have made other attempts to bring people in. Jesse Hiltz, a teaching assistant who worked at the store when it was first incorporated five years ago, made a promotion proposal. The board turned him down.
“We need more participation in promoting the store outside the quad,” Hiltz said.
Hiltz suggested expanding the bookstores’ clientele by targeting the North End, an area of Halifax without many bookstores. He said the store sells more than textbooks, such as a great selection of including Canadian literature, poetry and philosophy books.
The ex-chair of the board, Adrian Lee, says the solutions lie in whether the King’s community can get behind the cooperative, as most people are members.
“The King’s community needs to take some responsibility,” said Lee, a King’s grad who held the position for two years.
Lee said he is in favour of the cuts but doesn’t like the way the board made the decision.
The board didn’t consult Gillis before making the decision, and that’s the problem, he said, because Gillis knows more about how the store operates than anyone else.
The way the decision was made also irritated current board member, Aaron Shenkman. He says cutting hours is merely a short-term solution.
“Stephanie Duchon put the idea forward and the accountant agreed,” said Shenkman.
The bookstore has a deficit of $16,000. Shenkman questioned the ability of cutting hours to completely reconcile that deficit and said the savings don’t necessarily outweigh the loss of the staff.
“If we cut everyone, we don’t have a bookstore anymore,” said Shenkman.
“Staff can’t be expendable.”
Gillis also has managerial duties such as going to appointments or meeting with clients.
“Doing cuts won’t make things go up. It will sustain a fall.”
– Former employee Jesse Hiltz
These will be difficult to arrange as student staff hours are scaled back, says Michal Stein, a current student employee.
“The staff’s role is being under-recognized in this situation,” said Stein. “Carolyn cannot possibly be expected to do all of her managerial duties as well as all of the things she hired us to do.”
Staff cuts will make the store less functional, she said, but the store’s success depends on the co-op’s members.
“The bookstore was created by King’s students, for King’s students, and we want to see a student presence maintained in our store,” said Stein. “Any King’s student who has ever bought anything at the store is a member of the co-op and a part owner of the store. It belongs to all of us. We want to see the King’s community take that to heart.”
Read the original breaking story here and the continuing story here and here.