Park Slope

Love comes to Babeland just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sex shop workers sign first union contract in the country

February 14, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sex educators and sales associates at Babeland, the popular sex chain, have joined a union, bringing love back to the erotic shops just in time for Valentine’s Day. Shown: The Park Slope location. Photo data copyright Google Maps 2017
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Shoppers come to Babeland for sex toys, lotions, vibrators, erotic movies and non-judgmental advice from trained educators who teach classes on topics like how to find that sweet spot.

But employee concerns and the movement to unionize threatened the vibe at the popular sex boutiques, founded in Park Slope 20 years ago, with two branches in Manhattan.

Now, just in time for Valentine’s Day, love has returned to Babeland. The sex educators and sales associates at the shops have ratified their first union contract, joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).

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Babelnd’s predominately LGBTQ and women workforce will receive higher salaries, access to health care and new safety provisions to protect them in what is sometimes an emotionally-charged environment.

This is welcome news to both Babeland employees and Babeland’s owners, who had been at loggerheads over the unionization process.

“We want to be a progressive and collaborative workplace and the union will help with that,” Claire Cavanah, Babeland’s co-founder, told the Brooklyn Eagle via email. “It can be a challenging job and the contract creates a more supportive work environment.”

Cavanah thinks customers will feel the love at Babeland more than ever.

“Babeland is about fun and making customers happy and we think being union fits with that. The whole company is excited that we signed the contract and customers may feel extra positivity when they shop now,” she said, adding, “We can help make your Valentine’s Day memorable!”

 Employees said the process of unionization brought much-needed benefits along with an appreciation of Babeland’s progressive philosophy.

Octavia Wheeler, a sex educator and sales associate at the Rivington Street location in Manhattan, said in a statement that working for a company that recognizes the particular needs of its LGBTQ workforce was empowering.

“The history of unions is inherently tied into the rights of women, queers, and those most marginalized,” she said.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU, said in a statement that Babeland’s workers were the first in the sex boutique industry to unionize.

“The provisions negotiated in this contract sets a standard for protecting LGBTQ workers in this and many workplaces across the country,” he said.

Besides health benefits, the contract calls for three raises over the next ten months, along with the opportunity for workers to work more hours per week and have greater input on scheduling, among other provisions.

Babeland’s starting wage was already $14 an hour, higher than many other retailers, “in acknowledgement of the expertise involved in the work,” co-founder Rachel Venningsaid in a statement.

Local officials breathed a sigh of relief at the resolution of what could have been a messy spat.

“This is a great achievement for Babeland’s workers, for Babeland, and for Brooklyn,” Councilmember Brad Lander (D-39) said in a statement. “Props to Babeland’s workers, who found the courage to organize together, to the retail worker’s union, and to Babeland co-owners Claire Cavanah and Rachel Venning for signing a contract that will insure that more workers have access to health-care.”

Lander added, “Babeland has been a part of our community and New York’s queer/sex-positive/progressive community for almost 20 years. As the Trump regime undermines labor rights, health-care, and dignity, this is a great reminder that we can make progress by organizing together.”

 


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