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Help Powell's workers get union contract at indie bookstore giant


After more than six stuck months, negotiations for a union contract at the
largest independent bookstore in the country are starting to inch
forward-thanks to pressure inside and outside the store. Public action will
be even more critical in the weeks ahead.

Workers at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon voted almost a year ago to be
represented by International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 5. They
started organizing after management tried to "dumb down" their jobs, then
announced deep cuts in annual COLAs. Both moves smelled of creeping
chain-store mentality. The workers knew their knowledge and experience made
Powell's unique-so they unionized to keep their voice on the job and keep
Powell's from turning into a homegrown Borders.

Contract talks began September 14. Michael Powell, a major liberal in
Portland, hired one of the city's most notoriously anti-union attorneys as
his lead negotiator. Management offered little of substance at the table
till pushed by escalating displays of determination and concern from workers
and community members.

Workers have donned pins and stickers, passed out leaflets, attended
negotiations en masse and walked off the job a half-dozen times so far to
protest management's unfair labor practices. Community supporters have
phoned, written and spoken to managers, and joined by the hundreds in
creative and high-spirited rallies marking the Christmas season and
Valentine's Day.

Such participation has made an enormous difference. Now the workers need
help keeping the pressure on until they get a contract they can sign. A few
critical issues still separate the union and corporate teams at the table:

Union security: The workers are asking for a "fair share" or union shop
clause, which would require everyone represented by the union to pay their
fair share. Management wants an "open shop," as found in a right-to-work
state. "Open shops" sap unions' strength, as the law requires unions to
represent all the people in a bargaining unit, whether or not they pay a
fair share for representation.
Michael Powell tries to cast this as a free speech issue, and says the idea
of a union shop runs counter to his principles. But as a member of the
Portland Port Commission, he routinely approves collective bargaining
agreements for Port workers that contain union shop provisions.

Wages: Powell's workers want to be able to reach a living wage in a
reasonable period of time. Right now the $8.42/ hour median wage for
Powell's workers falls more than 20% below the $10.36/hour living wage for a
single adult with no dependents. Many workers now starting at Powell's make
only $6.50 an hour. Under the corporate team's last proposal, an employee
hired day one of the contract could never reach a living wage.

Right now you can do three things to help the more than 400 people
represented by ILWU Local 5 get a contract at Powell's:
Sign the boycott pledge list that follows this letter. Let Michael Powell
know his stance toward the union will affect his business. He should realize
that more anti-union antics will cost him-but lots of people would like to
shop at a unionized independent bookstore with an Internet site. Please
return the pledge to us by fax at 413.383.6542 or by e-mail at
Call or e-mail Michael Powell, if you haven't yet. Ask him to do the right
thing. You can call him at 503.228.4651, ext. 227 (1.800.878.7323) or send
e-mail to Please e-mail copies of your
communication to us at or fax them to 413.383.6542.
Star your calendar for the week of May 1. Plan to join us in the biggest
Powell's actions yet. We will send details closer to the date.

If you have questions, feel free to contact Local 5 at 503.223.6057.


The undersigned pledge to boycott all Powell's Books locations if and when
ILWU Local 5 deems it necessary. Along with this pledge, we of Local 5 ask
the undersigned to make Powell's their bookstore of choice when ILWU Local 5
wins its first union contract.

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