TO TAKE ON:
Meaning: fight or compete against someone
USE: fgured, probably, when we fight against somebody phisically, we take him/her or them with our hands, we put our hands on him/her. Metaphorically we catch our opponents or adversaries with our fight, etc.
Hehphotographs of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., above the cash registers, and filled the nooks and crannies with scholarly books. He threw open his doors to local authors, provided a home for the Queer Book Club and created a weekly story time program for kids (in English, Spanish and Mandarin.)
Talk to independent bookseller Chris Doeblin, the owner of the Book Culture bookstores, and it is obvious that in many ways he embodies the ethos of Morningside Heights, near Columbia University, where he lives and works.
“I’m an extremely progressive liberal and the best kind,” said Mr. Doeblin, 53. “I’ve been able to keep a community bookstore alive in this neighborhood and I don’t let ideology get in my way.”
And for that, customers in this liberal stronghold have unabashedly (until quite recently) sung his praises. To many, he is a lanky warrior for the written word, celebrated for creating and sustaining an intellectual haven in the neighborhood for nearly two decades.
At least that’s how things stood until last month, when his workers voted to unionize. On June 24, just hours after the vote, Mr. Doeblin announced in an email to staff that he had fired two employees for joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. By June 26, he had fired three more.
Mr. Doeblin said four of the dismissed employees were managers who were ineligible to take part in the vote and who had “undermined” his business by bringing in the union. (The employees countered that they were supervisors in name only.) He fired the fifth worker after accusing her of eavesdropping.
And lest there be any doubt about Mr. Doeblin’s sentiments about organized labor, he made them clear in his June 24 email, describing his store as “always being in opposition to the union.”
So what happens when a bookseller and those he serves, after years of political harmony, fall suddenly and dramatically out of sync?
Well, then you’ve got a fight on your hands.
On July 2, most of Mr. Doeblin’s remaining employees went on strike, picketing his two stores with the help of the union and its giant inflatable rats, and urging neighborhood residents to join in a boycott. The news spread on Twitter, in the local media and on community email lists. Sales plunged.
Some faculty members at Columbia who buy course books at the store on West 112th Street, which specializes in academic texts, considered taking their business elsewhere.
“I was, frankly, appalled,” said Rosalind Morris, an anthropology professor at Columbia who lives in the neighborhood and co-founded a faculty email list that was abuzz over the labor dispute. “It seemed like a significant misreading of the constituency that he serves and needs.”
You can envision the hardening battle lines, right? The union and the owner digging in their heels, the young, unemployed workers thrust into an unsettled job market, customers boycotting their beloved bookstores and demanding new leadership.
None of that happened.
Instead, Mr. Doeblin picked up the phone and called the union to try to make a deal.
It wasn’t that he regretted firing his workers. He didn’t. It wasn’t that his feelings about unions had changed. They hadn’t. “They may have given us the weekend,” he said, “but they also gave us the mob.”
He still chafes at his pro-union critics and emphasizes that others have offered sympathy and support. “My ideology is to make payroll, to make the rent, to make another mortgage payment,” Mr. Doeblin said.
But something happened as Mr. Doeblin watched his staff protest, as he was peppered with questions while walking to work and as he fielded hundreds of emails and phone calls at his stores.
He started to wonder where he had gone wrong.
“I think I’m probably not a very good manager,” said Mr. Doeblin, reflecting on a style that one employee described as brusque and intimidating. “I think I have a lot to improve on. I need the support of the staff and the support of our community to survive.”
By the afternoon of July 3, Mr. Doeblin had agreed to rehire the four fired supervisors, provided that they agreed to give up their titles and return to hourly status for now. He gave a severance package to the fifth person he had let go and has agreed to recognize the union. (Workers said they wanted a union to represent them in negotiations over wages, raises and promotions, to clarify job titles and to establish a grievance process.)
In return, the union agreed to drop the complaint it had filed against him with the National Labor Relations Board and to end the strike and the calls for a boycott. “We’re glad we’ve gotten over this crisis,” said Phil Andrews, director of the union’s retail organizing project.
Last week, the reinstated employees returned to work and customers went back to buying books. Mr. Doeblin and his community are once again in accord, even though everyone now knows they’re not exactly on the same page.