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The Brooklyn Strategist becomes third New York board game and RPG cafe to establish a union

The Brooklyn Strategist Workers United won their election in a 17-1 decisive victory

Group shot of Brooklyn Strategist Workers United members outside the New York City location
Image credit: Brooklyn Strategist Workers United/

Staff at the New York-based tabletop cafe, The Brooklyn Strategist, have won their union election to become the third board game and RPG store of its kind to unionise. Members of the Brooklyn Strategist Workers United won an overwhelming 17-1 vote on December 14th and joins two sibling cafes already represented by their own unions.

The Brooklyn Strategist began its union journey on November 1st after 25 members (more than 75% of the store’s workforce) signed an open letter to owner John Freeman asking him to voluntarily recognise their union. The Workers cited several major concerns in the letter that had moved them to unionise, including a lack of job security, an ineffective grievance process within the company and unfair compensation for operating one of the more successful tabletop cafes within a city with a prohibitively high cost of living.

Freeman denied the offer of voluntary recognition, pushing the Brooklyn Strategist Workers United to file with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a union election. Now that they’ve won, the nascent union (under the Workers United NY/NJ Regional Joint Board) will begin bargaining directly with Freeman at the negotiation table. That doesn’t mean the hardest part is over, as tabletop union siblings at TCGPlayer and CardKingdom can attest - employers regularly stymie negotiation as a stalling tactic, even when it flirts with anti-labor violations under US law.

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The Brooklyn Strategist’s union completes a trio of collectivised NYC tabletop cafes, all owned or co-owned by Freeman and Greg May. Hex & Company and Uncommons began their own struggle toward unionisation for similar reasons as the aforementioned Brooklyn location. According to BoardGameWire, Hex & Company staff accused both owners of union busting to stop workers from demanding a living wage for Manhattan - the store’s base wage of $12.50 (plus tips) falls well short of a calculated $22.50 per hour needed to live comfortably in the largest borough of NYC.

Other positions, such as professional game masters and those workers who cared for children in an after-school program earned more but not nearly enough to account for the labour involved. Hex & Company also argued for better promotion opportunities and enough staff to meet the store’s remarkable workload. The staff won their union election on November 14th, followed by Uncommons workers less than a month later on December 6th. Freeman and May denied all three their voluntary recognition.

All three tabletop cafes join a surging wave of union efforts within the industry over the last three years, arguably kickstarted by Pathfinder and Starfinder Maker Paizo with the United Paizo Workers. Since then, TCGPlayer, Noble Knight Games, CardKingdom and Mox Boarding House have all created their own unions and prepared the way for more representation and fair wages in a historically underpaid industry.

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