Aug 4, 2023 - News

Powell's Books workers authorize strike

Photo: Rebecca Smeyne/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Union workers at Powell's Books authorized a strike Wednesday, calling for a contract that includes access to a living wage and affordable health care.

Why it matters: While authorizing a strike does not mean one will happen, the move puts pressure on the independent bookseller ahead of its next bargaining session with union members later this month.

  • Any strike would be the first in two decades for Powell's.

State of play: Michelle Carroll, a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 5's bargaining team, told Axios they've been in negotiations with the company since February and remain at a standstill.

  • Of the nearly 300 Powell's employees in ILWU Local 5, the organization that has represented Powell's workers since 2000, 92% voted to authorize a strike.

Context: Earlier this year, Powell's proposed a change to its health care plan, which includes higher deductibles for employees.

  • In return, the union is asking for a "livable wage" to cover higher out-of-pocket costs for care, citing $21.85 an hour based on MIT's living wage calculator estimate for Multnomah County residents.
  • Powell's proposed a starting wage of $16.25.

What they're saying: "We've reached a point where it just felt like we needed something … to make it really clear how serious these needs are for the members," Carroll said of authorizing the strike.

  • In an emailed statement to Axios Portland, Powell's Books said it "has successfully engaged in contract negotiations with ILWU Local 5 for more than two decades, each time finding common ground that unites us."
  • "Our latest proposal includes immediate wage increases and further upholds excellent health care benefits that allow us to remain competitive in a challenging economic environment for retail," the statement continues.

The bottom line: Bargaining members can now call a strike at any moment if negotiations continue to flounder. That decision, however, is not taken lightly.

  • "A strike is a pretty substantial potential loss of income," Carroll said. "It's very difficult for a lot of our employees to miss even a day of work."
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