How This Sex Toy Store Is Protecting Women & LGBTQ Workers

Photo: Ted S. Warren/AP Photo.
On Monday, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union and workers at Babeland ratified their first union contract, making way for Babeland to be the first sex toy shop in the country to be unionized.

The new contract provides general wage increases as well as signing bonuses, but also includes provisions to protect the boutique's predominantly LGBTQ and women workforce. The contract solidifies safety and security trainings and protocols designed to safeguard LGBTQ and women workers in an intimate industry.

According to Massima Lei, who has worked at Babeland's Rivington Street location in New York City since July 2015, the provisions are especially important for workers in such an intimate environment.

"This is a workplace and a store that is especially vulnerable, both for staff and for customers, given the fact that we're talking to customers all day about gender and body and anatomy, it can be a really charged workplace," Lei tells Refinery29. "[The contract] allows us to open up more with customers, and for us to very explicitly say when someone has crossed the line at the job."

The contract, which has been shared with Refinery29, states that "the employer will not discriminate based on race, creed, color, sex, nationality, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, age, gender expression, identity, or pronouns." Additionally, the employer will make an effort to advertise for job openings in "traditionally marginalized communities," and "will make efforts to seek applicants from oppressed groups in regards to race, creed, color, sex, nationality, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, age, gender expression, identity, and pronouns."

While the contract seeks to protect all staff, Rachel Venning, Babeland co-founder, tells us that they support women and LGBTQ workers by providing tools and training to support staff as they navigate more challenging interactions with customers.

"Our staff come from diverse backgrounds and many Babeland employees experience harassment and oppression in the world and when they come to work it can be difficult to deal with customers who don’t have good boundaries, ask personal questions, or come from the same background," Venning says. "The contract provides employees with tools they need to deescalate situations with customers. These are situations that may come up in any customer-facing job but when you add in the intimate nature of Babeland’s products, it can feel more charged."
Octavia Koehner, another staff member at Babeland's Rivington store, tells us that much of Babeland's staff is highly political, and the union was a natural step in the right direction.

"I think Babeland is simply continuing a very strong tradition of women, non-men, and other marginalized groups taking their lives into their own hands by collective action," Koehner says.

The union is effective in all three of Babeland's New York City locations on Wednesday, February 15.
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