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What's happening at Powell's???

Does anyone know what happened?
About a month ago, there was a ton of news about the negotiations at Powell's, and the struggle against management. For a month, there has been no news, and the local 5 website is way out of date. Did these folks win a contract? Did they lose? Should we boycott? Is there a story out there?
choke 28.Dec.2003 21:42

disgrunt powells worker

The local 5 leadership called a semi-secret meeting and called off any effective action. This was after we voted for a strike.

Is there more to it than this? 28.Dec.2003 22:57

Metal Pancreas

I never really shopped at Powell's but I was interested to see what came of the strike. Is this what came of it?

Why did the leadership back down, I wonder... were they deciding in the best interest of the majority of the workers, short-term, or doing something opposite-like, along the lines of doing what's best for a select few workers, long-term. What was the reasoning they gave to the workers for their decision and why did the workers just go along with it even though it contradicted their votes?

Hope for end to strike.. 28.Dec.2003 23:35


without selling out to Borders.

the straight dope 28.Dec.2003 23:37

powell's union worker

The upshot is...while the strike days caused some financial pain to the corporation, Management made clear to the union that they were willing to weather the called strike days...which would've been the weekend of Dec. 13-14 and the Sat. before Christmas, Dec. 27. Meanwhile, Management was doing all it could to split the workers...and pit those (mostly younger workers) who value cost-of-living raises against those (mostly older or with dependents) who value good medical benefits. They also were trying to demonize the union for calling strikes, and to get workers to cross the lines (mostly without success).

Meanwhile, there were a number of workers without earned leave, who had used it up on previous strikes...
and, to be honest, many of us had family and other obligations on the weekends before Christmas, as many people do, which might've thinned our numbers on the picket lines. Convinced that Management was willing to swallow the Christmas losses anyway, the union decided not to rise to the bait that Management was offering by refusing to even come to the negotiating table. They'll have to come to the table eventually, if only because the old benefit levels (and scheduled increases) are locked in until there's some kind of agreement, or an impasse is declared. (I'm not a labor lawyer, so I don't know when that can happen...I'll only say "not yet.")

By the way, sales were definitely down at Powell's this season...what a surprise! The problem right now seems to be a rich man and his two ambitious co-CEOs, who are hoping to "make their bones" in the corporate world by bring down a union workforce, are at least sticking it to us during the Bush era's open season on workers.

There's no boycott declaration yet, but the day may come. The struggle will continue. Thanks for your interest! I'll talk to the union about updating the website more often.

more 28.Dec.2003 23:41

powell's union worker

There may be more strikes, vigils, etc. as well...we haven't given up, and won't. Powell's workers will fight on for affordable health care and a living wage in 2004!

i'm staying away 29.Dec.2003 07:19

until it's settled

For my part, anyway, i'm not stepping across that threshold (painful as it is for me) until this dispute is settled fairly. I LOVE books, I support independent bookstores, but I will NOT support Michael Powell in his war on the worker.

love those books 29.Dec.2003 08:24


I can buy any new book I want at my local (Astoria) bookstore.

Powells is very helpful for used books. I have refrained from buying from Powells for now, but I need some source for used books. Online outfits like ABEBooks-- are they any better? Who knows what is fair?

If anyone knows, please tell me. I want books, and I want to do the right thing.

Use your library 29.Dec.2003 09:39

book lover


Libraries are one of the few strongholds of co-ownership and democracy- Support them and use them.

Did you know that, through World Cat, you can access most of the books in the WORLD? I've checked out books from libraries in Africa and Asia. It is amazing!

For the cost of a small children's book in taxes, we get unlimited access to the world's libraries!

abe 29.Dec.2003 11:37


I shop on ABE.com and have had very good luck. There are a lot of independent book sellers there, and all you need to do is check their information blurbs. Like you, I love going to Powells.....it has everything, a nice cafe, restrooms and books that go on forever. It has always been a real delight for us to make a day of it there. Rarely did we leave without spending at LEAST $50 there. But we did NO shopping there for Christmas and will not shop there again until this union contract is finalized and the workers are treated fairly. I am wondering if there could be more informational flyers posted outside because when I was in the area during the Christmas season, I thought that perhaps many shoppers heading through Powell's doors were not aware of the struggle.

public is aware 29.Dec.2003 11:55


Public is aware and shops anyway, because of recent Willamette Week article indicating Powell's employees earn much more in pay and benefits than other bookstore employees in Portland and in some cases in SF and NY (!).

Uh, do those cool indy stores posters keep directing us to provide benefits to their employees?

We're all eating higher health insurance expenses. Go to the real problem, not the symptom of your employer meeting reality and still offering more than your industry peers.

thanks anyway, "customer." 29.Dec.2003 16:33

still not buying it

Willamette Week, trusty "alternative" voice of the PBA, is corporate media. Who cares what they say about anything. And who cares if Powell's workers supposedly make more than other bookstore employees? In the first place, I seriously doubt the veracity of this. But in the 2nd place, the more we can gain for any workers, the more we will gain for all of us. The fact is, Powell's workers earn the huge profits Michael Powell is raking in, and they deserve a fair share. Fuck him if he thinks he can get it all and still convince people to support the store. Fuck that.

Finally, why do you think Powell's workers might earn more, if in fact they do? Could it be that they're the ONLY unionized bookstore in the city? And could it be that they only got thier union because they fought tooth and nail for it? Michael Powell fought them every single step of the way, and would love nothing better than to crush this union now. tough. When workers struggle to gain a union, they stand up to the corporate structure that's choking us all down. In short, they have fought for all of us, and now it's our turn to stand up with them by refusing to add any more of our hard earned cash to Michael Powell's coffers until he is forced to share those profits with the workers.

going to "the source of the problem" 29.Dec.2003 18:49

my 2cents

i am getting a little sick of the argument that striking workers, wanting health care should "go to the source of the problem", and leave the poor capitalist "middle [rich] men" alone, as if they arent to blame for the health care madness in this country now. well, you know, they probably aren't to blame...

but i ask you this: who really will the politicians, at this point, listen to? rambling grassroots folks holding placards asking for health care? hell no. if anything (and i think its a stretch, dont get me wrong), they will listen to the rich folks. if workers can get the powells fatcats and safeway fat cats and so on sweating a bit, then, just maybe these big-pocket boys (and girls) will start yammering to their fatcat cronies, while puffing on cigars in the private club, "hey politician buddy? what is up with the health care? this is starting to become a pain for me".

well, ok, maybe its wishful thinking. but i still think its completely a wild goose chase to think the burden lies on the worker to change tactics. let the corporate stockholders, CEOs and big wigs feel the same heat we all are as we see our health care bills climb daily.

if ILWU fucks you over... 29.Dec.2003 20:41

I wobble wobble

If the ILWU fucks over its members, maybe the workers need to find another union. The IWW wouldn't do that shit because it is run by its members not another set of bosses. Give them a call. If on the other hand, the Powell's workers are too cowed to stand up for themselves, even the IWW can't help.

ABE Rules 29.Dec.2003 20:48

North Portlander


By all means, patronize ABE ( http://www.abebooks.com)! I've purchased many good books from the hundreds of small/medium/large, independent booksellers throughout the world who list with them. Powells lists there too, but if I have a choice I generally go with the little bookseller who takes the time to adequately describe condition and content. Powells doesn't and so if I am contemplating buying a book from Powells I have to go and take a look at it. While ABE is the largest, there are also many other online sites for used books. Beware Alibris which is a broker and adds their fee on top of what the independent bookseller charges. The same book is usually available from the original bookseller on ABE.

Powells Is Not Safeway, WalMart, etc. 29.Dec.2003 20:51


While I understand and agree with much of what has been said about negotiation with Powells, I do not equate them with Safeway or any other store or company owned by a larger conglomerate. As far as I know, Powells is a Portland business owned by Portlanders and I hope it remains that way.

Is there a Boycott or Not? 29.Dec.2003 20:58

Douglas Lain

Is there a Boycott at Powell's? Should working class people avoid Powell's or what? What is the Union's position? What do the workers want us to do? Should we avoid Powells?

Why do they call it 'dope'? 29.Dec.2003 21:05

Disgruntled Powells Worker

I read the 'straight dope', and it is dope, crap used to stupify your mind.

If the "union" decided to call off the strikes, was worried about workers and time off, why did the overwhelming majority of workers at a mass meeting OK a strike?

And why was it that the strike was called off by less than 30 people, at a meeting not intended to discuss the strike?

don't get disgruntled, get...er, uh...GRUNTLED! 29.Dec.2003 22:16

a worker

As long as you have cowards and union bosses running negotiations workers will get screwed. Perhaps, the negotiators have sensed weakness of will among the Powell's workers, perhaps they themselves are weak. As long as the environment exists for backroom deals to sell out workers, workers will get sold out. The suggestion that Powell's workers look into democratic unionism (the IWW in this case) is reasonable. Most of them will not understand the difference, but they might catch on if they understand the power of participation in a real union.

Don't let the turkeys get you down, as they say. I'm 100% in support of the Powell's workers whatever they do. Hopefully, though, they'll learn for this experience and rather than discounting unions wholesale, really grok the power of demoratic organizing.

P.S. Humanity will not be truly happy until the last Business Agent is hung with the guts of the last General Manager.

the Ilwu is quite democratic 30.Dec.2003 11:14


I really don't understand the complaints about local 5 being undemocratic, we make all our strategy decisions locally less than a block from the main store, we have only 1 full time employee- all the rest vollunteer their time and work the union in addition to jobs at powells so we certainly don't have fat-cat union bosses making the decisions. And just 'cause we authorize a strike doesn't mean that several weeks later it is still the best choice in negotiating tactics. We have under status quo better benefits than we would under any of managements proposals thus far. As I see it until management calls an impasse we're better off. Don't get me wrong, I love all my IWW brothers and sisters, but dissing my union won't make me happy, especially with the rich history of direct democracy and lack of union corruption in the ILWU- Harry Bridges look him up.

risk equity 30.Dec.2003 11:38

another customer

I own a business with two employees and pay them market rate for their trade (hazardous waste technicians; dime a dozen these days, or about mid-thirties a year).

As far as employees saying I earn too much, and how they deserve the wealth they create, I ask where were they when I put up the capital (my house) to start this business, where are they when I request credit based on unpaid accounts recievable to make payroll, and where will they be if I get sued for contract liability or other risks?

They are adequately compensated for their (lack of) risk, and I am adequately compensated for my (high level of) risk. Open you own business, with your house and your family's welfare on the line, and see how generously you spread it around . . .

Waiting for the ILWU 5 co-op bookstore to open up.

Still waiting.

where does the new middle class come from 30.Dec.2003 12:27


The middle class of the 20th century was created by the craft and industrial union movements.
Craft and Industrial jobs are moving overseas. We still need a middle class (your customers). Where is that new middle class going to come from, what's left? The Service Industry in most cases can't move overseas, seems like the obvious choice. And we all benefit from the existance of a middle class (your customers), don't we?

risk equity=BS 30.Dec.2003 13:28

yer mom

No one forced you to put up your assests as capital in a business. In fact, I will assume that you aquired said capital from working, and not from inhritance or stock options.

Those that have no assets to put up are forced to work for wages. All business are chartered by the government, and have certain obligations to the public sphere. If a business cannot meet these obligations of providing healthcare, and you are unwilling to push for a national system, then you have no right to have employees to make a profit of off. If you want to have a business and do without for your self, that is your perogative.

And as far as striking is concerned: the union busting strategy these days is to predict when workers will go out and hire scabs accordingly. The trick is to always be prepared to do it, and you will never have to, because an employer cannot always be ready for one; it is to much for HR to deal with on the long term. You can't keep scabs on the line if the work never opens up.

Support the small bookstores 30.Dec.2003 13:44

fuck if I know

I continue to see people asking weather they should shop at Powell's. Does anyone go and buy books at Laughing Horse anymore. They have such a great small cooperative bookstore and every time I'm in there they seem like they could use more business. I suggest for anyone who asking weather you should shop at Powell's or not the answer is NO! Go to Laughing Horse!

yeah, right 30.Dec.2003 15:08


I don't know anything about the IWW, and don't give a shit about them. All I know is that the Local 5 leaders took away our decision. Maybe it was the best decision, but I wasn't allowed to help make it. Some democracy.

ILWU Local 5 30.Dec.2003 15:20

Douglas Lain

It's clear enough from these posts that the ILWU Local 5 is simply unable to represent the workers interests.

Is there an alternative path for the workers at Powell's who wish to fight? Is there a known tactic that Disgruntled worker could employ in order to stand up for themselves despite the double betrayal? I'd love to hear more from the IWW rep about what the options are.

a couple of things 30.Dec.2003 15:38


For "Customer: The Public is Aware": our Union hasn't called for a boycott so it stands to reason that customers would still be shopping. Our goal is not to bring the store to its knees financially because we love our jobs and won't gain anything by destroying it. A boycott is an extreme tactic that we want to be very careful with as it can be difficult to get the word out to stop boycotting once a contract is reached. We DO want people to make a statement so instead of just not shopping there it's better to go in, pull a bunch of books, and then tell someone (preferably a manager) that you want to put them on hold until the workers have a contract. Writing letters or emails to Michael Powell is a good thing to do as well. Write a letter to an editor of a major newspaper (please).

For "I wobble wobble": The ILWU isn't fucking anyone over. When we took a vote to AUTHORIZE a few strikes we gave our officers (elected, all but one unpaid) the AUTHORITY to call them (or not). There were very sound strategic reasons, laid out above, for not striking. We won't make progress if we end up burning out the workers so that it becomes increasingly difficult for them to be able to afford to participate in actions.
Also, we've always received a lot of much appreciated support from the IWW. Many members of ILWU Local 5 have supported IWW actions as well. I don't understand the lack of solidarity in your post. You're barking (recruiting) up the wrong tree here.

For "Another Customer: Risk Equity": You say that your employees (Hazardous Waste Technicians) "...are adequately compensated for their (lack of) risk, and I am adequately compensated for my (high level of) risk." They are HAZARDOUS WASTE TECHNICIANS and you say they "lack...risk?" Why don't you just remove Hazardous from the job title then?

Anyone comparing their company to Powell's should do some research on what Powell's is and how much money it makes. I don't deserve pay and health care cuts just because someone wants to bring those things in line with other "booksellers" whose jobs are nothing like mine.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who is supportive of Powell's employees. Community support is just about the biggest factor that gives us hope. Don't hesitate to ask ILWU Local 5 to support you in labor (and even political) struggles that you're involved in.

Apologies from a wobbly 30.Dec.2003 16:02


Local 5,

As an individual IWW, I'm sorry for the disconcerting effects made by "I wobble wobble"'s posts. While that fellow worker is, of course, entitled to their opinion, it is in no way that of the Portland IWW. From the beginning of the Powells campaign we have always stood in solidarity with the workers at Powells. I don't expect that to change.


Who knew? 30.Dec.2003 17:09


I was recently in Portland from out of town. I went shopping at Powells, and because no one was there picketing or leafletting, I had no idea that I was essentially crossing a picket. If I had known I never would have given them my money. It's kind of a shame that this issue is so under wraps.


strike vote 30.Dec.2003 20:18



when we voted at the emergency general membership meeting--disgruntled--we voted on a strike AUTHORIZATION for the e-board. this was clearly stated both times. This means the executive board ultimately decides if it is strategic for us to strike. Because management made it clear that they would weather the xmas season, our strategy changed from short term to long term--and it makes no sense to burn out all our earned leave now, if it is not strategic. The union has no secrets--educate yourself.

Go local 5! 30.Dec.2003 20:40

Seattle wob

I'm not sure who's responsible for the "I wobble wobble" recruitment posts. 99% of the time the answer is not to switch horses, especially in midstream. We know a lot of folks who hit Powell's when they make trips to Puddletown. If you need pickets hit us up with a weeks notice and and we'll get the word out in kind.


Impasse? 31.Dec.2003 12:04


It sure sounds like Powells employees and management are at an impasse. One of the posts above talked about
management needing to call in a mediator and state they are at impasse. I am sure the employees at Powells can do that too. I don't understand why both sides, both state they are not seeing any real movement and impasse has not been filed. I guess when everyone has finally hit rock bottom, and they are tired it will come to that.
Good Luck on the Very Long Haul,

for another customer: risk equity 31.Dec.2003 13:08

Elmo Fudd

I have no sympathy for you. My father has owned his own business all of my life. He has failed a couple of times and when he declared bankrupcy guess who paid for it: everyone. When you talk about your risk, you mean all taxpayers risks, becuase we pay for bankrupcies, fraudelent accounts, the whole nine yards.

The whole thing about how we should be in awe of you as a boss really doesn't fly. I have been working all of my life. I have been entreprenurial before and this is what I can tell you. Most first time buisnes will fail. Get used to the idea that you may lose that house. This is the fact of capitalism. You will probably lose it faster if you treat your workers badly. If you have the inner strength you will come up with a new idea and create a new business. Or you will go back to working for someone else. So while you act all high and mighty becuase you are risking your future credit, realize this, if I am working a job at $7.05 an hour I am still paying back your bankrupcies. I am the one who invest in you, and your dream, so have a little respect for theirs.

Strike Authorization Vote 01.Jan.2004 14:53


Why shouldn't the workers make the decision to strike on their own? If it means calling another meeting, then why not? It is a big decision. What's the point of giving away your control to the local Exec. Board? If they have some concerns, and different views, or a change in circumstances, these are things that should be shared with the effected workers, discussed, and put to a vote.

decision-making and democracy 11.Jan.2004 11:08

local 5'er

Disgruntled Powell's Worker writes:

>> If the "union" decided to call off the strikes, was worried about workers and time off, why did the overwhelming majority of workers at a mass meeting OK a strike?

I voted to authorize a strike because I considered this the best strategy at that time. My opinion changed.

>> And why was it that the strike was called off by less than 30 people, at a meeting not intended to discuss the strike?

I was at the meeting at which those strikes were officially called off. This decision was not presented as a "done deal". It was not only discussed but debated, for what felt like a really long time to me - and that's okay. Now, maybe some of the people present still didn't agree with the final decision, but concensus ain't always possible, folks, when more than two people are involved in the decision-making process.

Frankly, "I wobble wobble", I don't see how that simple fact would be any different if the letters on my union buttons read IWW instead of ILWU.

Finally, there were fewer than 30 or even 20 people at that meeting. Yes, another "mass meeting" intended for the sole purpose of discussing this option might have been preferable, but sometimes things like timing, the need to get decisions actually made and move forward, and the challenges of gathering an entire membership will effect the overall process. That sucks. But meeting attendance is usually low anyway. Ultimately, if people want to be part of the process, they'll have to show up, and speak up.