Workers at Powell’s Books represented by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 5 say they will hold a one-day strike Sept. 4.
The ILWU represents 307 Powell’s workers across three stores: 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd. in Beaverton, the flagship Powell’s City of Books at 1005 W Burnside St.; and 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., as well as people who work on the company’s website, drive books around, etc.
Powell’s bills its self as “the world’s largest independent bookstore,” and since 1971, it has given people a reason to visit Portland. But since 1999, when the ILWU organized Powell’s employees, relations between labor and management—led by the Powell family—have often been contentious. The two sides are currently negotiating a contract, which would be the eighth they have agreed to since 1999. The last contract expired June 7, the union says.
At issue, unsurprisingly: money.
“Powell’s has failed to provide wages that keep up with inflation in recent years, with entry-level booksellers now starting at the minimum wage,” the ILWU said in a statement. “On top of that, over 85% of Powell’s union workers currently make below the area’s living wage ($21.85), with many workers remaining ‘capped’ below a living wage—including those who’ve worked for the company for decades.”
In a statement, Powell’s defended its offer as fair. “Powell’s proposal includes immediate wage increases for every employee in the bargaining unit and annual wage increases every year of the contract, making our wages competitive with the majority of retail wages in Portland,” the company said in an email. “In addition, we proposed reduced health care monthly premiums for the majority of employees, eliminating deductibles for the majority of doctors’ visits, and an enhanced 401(k) retirement plan match.” The company expressed optimism that it would reach a deal at the bargaining table.
The union says that in a recent strike vote, 92% of workers voted to walk off the job.
They last struck Powell’s in 2003 but now plan to hold a one-day “unfair labor practices strike” Sept. 4 before negotiations resume Sept. 4 and 6.