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Powell's Workers Stage Another Walkout
Kevin Howell -- 4/3/00

More than 50 Powell's Bookstore employees staged another walkout at the flagship store on Sunday, March 19, frustrated with the slow-moving contract negotiations between management and the local that represents the 400 bookstore and warehouse employees.

Sunday's walkout was not the first time the bookstore union organized a protest along similar lines, but it was the first to last all day. Approximately one-third of the staff of the downtown store, Powell's City of Books, walked out, as well as workers at the company's warehouse receiving area and Internet processing center.

Michael Cannarella, international organizer at ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union), estimated that 65 people were gone from their job on Sunday. "Roughly 50 people from the store walked out or called in sick and about 10 to 15 from other locations joined them."

According to Cannarella, who has been working with the Powell's union for the last 18 months, union pickets blocked shipments at the Internet facility two days earlier, forcing the company to postpone mailings. A sixth unfair-labor complaint had been filed earlier that week by the union, claiming the company was "clamping down on its attendance and lunch break policies," to discourage workers from joining the union.

Michael Powell, in an interview with the Oregonian, said, "We're still okay as a company, as an operation, but we're not okay as a culture. It's creating quite a fissure. It's not the kind of company I've tried to foster."

"Management was changing policies without consulting the union," said Cannarella. "Several of the unfair labor policies we've filed are because they're changing the status quo, such as salaries, lunch breaks, days off. This was not negotiated with us. We approached management about this, and we were told, 'If you think what we're doing is violating the law, file a complaint.' So we did."

While Powell and his 400 union employees are near a deal on pay, the two parties are still divided on whether eligible employees will automatically become dues-paying members of ILWU, whether the contract will guarantee union representation should Powell decide to sell his company and whether workers will participate in strategic business decisions.
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