It has been a busy month for the TCG Union.

On March 16, they declared their intent to unionize the 96 warehouse workers of TCGPlayer, one of the biggest online Magic: the Gathering retailers, with SEIU Local 200. Most of those workers fall into two job categories: fulfillment center generalists, who receive incoming shipments and pull together outgoing orders; and inventory specialists, who work with the third-party stores on TCGPlayer and the customers that order cards.

The decision to organize came after a brutal two-month period near the end of 2019. In September, TCGPlayer significantly reduced its contribution towards its employees’ healthcare plans, forcing workers to pay twice as much for a similar plan or choose a less generous option. Richard Vallejo, a fulfillment generalist at TCGPlayer and one of the TCG Union’s organizers, said that TCGPlayer didn’t give their employee’s a heads up about the changes or any chance to have a voice in the decision.

The next hit came in October when TCGPlayer abruptly laid off 15% of its staff. “That morning was complete panic,” Vallejo told Hipsters of the Coast. “In the time it took me to go [from our morning huddle] and grab some materials for my station, one of my friends—who I was sitting next to—was pulled into a meeting with six others. She came back and said that there was no longer a position for her in the company and that she was being let go.”

While there had been some early consideration towards organizing in the Summer of 2019, Vallejo said that the movement really picked up after the healthcare changes and layoffs. Organizers want to have more of a say in their pay and benefits, as well as an “increased sense of job security, better transparency, and accountability throughout the company.”

A week after the unionization announcement, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered all New Yorkers to stay home on March 22. TCGPlayer’s warehouse was deemed an essential business and allowed to continue operation; so while the warehouse workers continued coming to work, the company’s office staff worked from home.

The next week, TCGPlayer closed its warehouse for three weeks from March 27 to April 17, which was later extended until May 1. The warehouse workers were allowed to stay home “with full pay and benefits while we have paused that portion of our service,” TCGPlayer said in their announcement.

A short period of quiet followed as New York continued to grapple with the fallout from the state’s COVID-19 epidemic. The quiet was shattered on April 16, when Bernie Sanders endorsed the unionization effort on Twitter.

“I support SEIU 200united and TCGPlayer warehouse workers work to organize a union,” Sanders tweeted. “Now more than ever, workers need a union contract to protect their wages, benefits, and safety on the job.”

Former Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders endorses the TCG Union.

That same day, TCGPlayer announced that they would be instituting raises for its warehouse staff up to $17 an hour, with a minimum wage of $15. Currently, those workers’ hourly rate is slightly above New York State’s minimum wage, which $11.80 as of 12/31/19 and is scheduled to rise to $12.50 at the end of 2020. Vallejo, who has worked for the company for nine months, said he makes 30 or 40 cents more than minimum wage as a fulfillment center generalist. He says that the announced wage increases will begin in July with a bump of the minimum rate to a $14 an hour that will increase to $15 in December, and will be accompanied by adjustments to the scales that determine eligibility for raises.

“We are excited for the pay increase and appreciate the announcement from management,” Vallejo told Hipsters. “The all hands meeting where it was announced was very positive, and also included some adjustments to the tier structure with more balance between seniority and metrics. After company leadership explicitly refused to consider an increase in wages to account for changes to insurance last Fall, these are welcome changes promised to come later this year, and they are the result of months of workers making their voices heard.”

However, wages were the only thing addressed in TCGPlayer’s announcement. “Pay is not the only issue we’re pushing for,” Vallejo said. “There are many other issues and concerns of myself and my coworkers, including health insurance, real job security, transparency and an active, democratic voice in decisions that effect the conditions of our work. We won’t truly be able to rebuild the trust we have lost until all of this is written into a contract.”

“With our vote a week away,” Vallejo continued, “[The wage] announcements give us confidence in our ability to negotiate for further improvements knowing that these changes will now be the starting point when we sit down with management at the bargaining table.”

The unionization effort will conclude its first phase next week on April 30 with that mail-in vote. TCGPlayer initially denied TCG Union’s request for a mail-in ballot but eventually relented as COVID-19 made in-person gatherings impossible. Should the warehouse workers vote to unionize, the TCG Union and SEIU will begin the collective bargaining process with TCGPlayer’s management.

“I hope that this serves as motivation or inspiration for people that, even if we’re in a niche market, we can unionize,” Vallejo said. “It’s not just trades and teachers—I hope that people see this and get inspired to think that it’s not so far-fetched or difficult.”

“And I hope that people start giving consideration to people in all parts of [the Magic] industry,” he concluded. “A lot of it is unorganized labor. A lot of it is probably fairly low wage labor . . . A lot of people don’t consider all of the work that we’re doing behind the scenes” to make the Magic community what it is today.


Hipsters of the Coast reached out to TCGPlayer for comment on this story but never received a response.

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