[Portland, Oregon. May 6, 2021] - This week, Powell’s Books begins hiring new staff while over 150 laid-off workers remain ready for recall to their former positions. Last month, Powell’s announced it was withdrawing from negotiations with ILWU Local 5 and turning its back on those workers who were laid off due to COVID-19 and had not yet returned to the bookstore. ILWU Local 5 was surprised to learn of Powell’s decision, receiving notification only moments prior to the Company making the public announcement. Since then, the Union has filed several grievances for breach of contract, and workers (both working and laid-off) continue to protest these flagrant violations of the labor agreement currently in place between Powell’s and the Union. Emily Powell (Owner, firstname.lastname@example.org) has been wholly absent in communications with those workers who remain on the recall list, many of whom have worked at the bookstore for decades and some of whom were the very individuals who provided her training in the stacks and at the book buying counter as she learned about the ins and outs of the business her father, Michael Powell, and grandfather, Walter Powell, built. Despite a debt of gratitude owed to those workers who have invested their lives in making Powell’s the incredible independent bookstore it is, Emily and Powell’s management have opted to abandon lifelong booksellers, instead seeking to fill positions by a general call to the public.
We understand the pandemic wreaked havoc on every workplace. An initial layoff made sense. And with our contract, plus the union confirming the recall process with HR back in May 2020, we were assured when Powell’s was ready to reopen, we would come back to our jobs of selling books. It’s reprehensible that management is pulling out of what they said and taking this moment, in a global pandemic, to deny and delay its staff healthcare, childcare, and ultimately, deny us our employment.
Chris S, Bookseller
ILWU Local 5 stands in staunch condemnation of Powell’s decision to shirk its contractual and ethical obligations to the community of Portland booksellers. We love Powell’s as a Portland institution and want to see the bookstore flourish, but not at the expense of those booksellers who brought Powell’s success to begin with. ILWU Local 5 and the membership will continue to call upon Powell’s to be an ethical player in the Portland business community and honor its contractual obligations. At this time, we ask that the community continue its patronage of Powell’s Books, still a union bookstore.
For more information or worker interview opportunities, please contact ILWU Local 5.