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Ed Ericson Jr., "Quick and Dirty Pedal Power"

Quick and Dirty Pedal Power

Employees Of Mount Washington Bike Shop Go Union

From The Baltimore City Paper

Ed Ericson Jr.

It's day three of the union at Joe's Bike Shop in Mount Washington, and
owner Joe Traill steps outside to say that nothing has changed "so far."

Traill wears a worried look and chooses his words carefully so he won't
sound too defensive. On May 1 he learned that all 10 of his employees
had joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)--the storied Wobblies.

"My guess is the significance of May Day was not lost on them," he says.

The IWW formed in 1905, and while it never numbered more than about
200,000 members, its radical influence is still felt today. Wobblies got
the eight-hour day for lumberjacks, put backbone in the dockworkers
unions, integrated racially and across gender lines, were imprisoned for
sedition, and were lynched. Legendary leftists like Big Bill Haywood,
Mother Jones, and Joe Hill were red-card-carrying Wobblies, and the men
and women of the rank and file were tough, fearless class warriors
fighting mine barons and government repression.And now all that history is falling on Traill's head.

Josh Keogh, who has worked at Joe's Bike Shop for seven years and says
he'd like to work there indefinitely, led the union effort. He is 23
years old and only one credit from graduating with a bachelor's degree
in American studies from the University of Maryland. Unlike many
students, he is not saddled with student loans in the five or six
digits. "There was plenty of money in the family to put me through
College Park," he says.

Keogh says he really likes his boss.

"He's really been somewhat of a mentor to me--he hired me when I was
like 15 years old," Keogh says. "But this is more about what we think is
fair and what we think is just and how we're going to go about getting it."

Keogh says the top wage at the shop is $32,000 a year, with no health
benefits. The full-timers with health insurance get $12 an hour, he
says, which is about the going rate at bike shops.

Wages aren't the issue so much as information and consistency, Keogh
says. "Part of what we're looking for is more transparency in business
practices. Obviously nobody here wants Joe to go out of business, [but]
we don't really know what he can pay us." He says the union has asked
Traill to open his business records in preparation for negotiations.
Unlike other unions, the IWW doesn't go in for contracts with no-strike
clauses, so the ball is in Traill's court. The business review will come
"after summer--after the busy season," Keogh says.

And so things go on as they always have at Joe's, except now there's a
bright class distinction between Joe and everyone else who works there.
Traill, who bought the shop in 1999, says he doesn't think anyone in his
family has any experience with a union--either as a member or as
management. He says he "barely" graduated high school.

For now, Traill plans to "wait and see," he says. "I don't know what
else to do. This is a new experience for me."