Powell’s Books rehiring, but at odds with union

Multnomah County

Powell’s Books main store in Portland, April 2021 (KOIN)

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story contained disputed information. Below is a more complete and thorough story about the rehiring at Powell’s. KOIN 6 News regrets the editing errors.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As vaccinations increase and the hope of life returning to a more normal footing grows, Powell’s Bookstore is looking to add jobs as they more fully reopen their stores.

However, they are at odds with the union that represents many of their employees

Powell’s rehired 170 employees that had been affected when the pandemic began in March 2020.

Powell’s Bookstore will begin hiring additional employees as they restore operations at their three locations. Powell’s CEO Patrick Bassett said the positions will be advertised and although the seniority and employment rights under the current labor contract have expired, Powell’s encourages those employees to reapply.

In an open letter to employees, Bassett said: “Powell’s has reached out to the Union on two occasions to find solutions that go above and beyond the labor contract, without success. Its most recent proposal would have temporarily extended former employees’ access to the recall process for a period of six months as well as reinstate their previous paid time-off accrual rate, which would be significant to the company’s longer-term former employees.”

But the union didn’t accept that offer.

“This means the original contract language regarding loss of all seniority and employment rights applies, and Powell’s will begin to advertise job openings,” Bassett wrote.

In other words, union employees at Powell’s who were affected by the pandemic-related cuts can apply for jobs with the bookstore, but aren’t guaranteed the same seniority and wage, although Bassett said it is their goal.

“It is also our goal that when former employees are hired for the same or a similar position that they held before, we will return them at their previous wage,” he wrote.

Myka Dubay, the union representative for ILWU Local 5, told KOIN 6 News they are “appalled” at Powell’s decision.

“We are appalled at Powell’s decision to eliminate the recall list and force laid off employees to apply for their former jobs. This action comes nearly a year after the Union and Company had reached mutual agreement, in writing, that the recall list would be maintained without timeline restrictions. The Union is looking into every avenue to hold Powell’s to their contractual obligations as well as the moral imperative to treat workers ethically and not use the pandemic as an opportunity to reduce wages and benefits for longtime employees. In the meantime, we ask the community to continue your patronage of Powell’s Books. It currently employs around 135 union booksellers – a number we look to increase into the future as business returns to ‘normal.'”

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