Workers at Powell’s Books went on a one day Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) strike this Wednesday. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local Five has filed multiple ULP’s, claiming Powell’s management has been using intimidation and harassment against union activists during contract negotiations.
Mary Winsor, a ILWU Local Five member said, “I’m really impressed by my co-workers at Powell’s books.”
At the Beaverton store 100% of the workers walked out on strike and at the Burnside Powell’s only four workers crossed the picket line and went to work.
Powell’s workers, other local union members and community supporters helped shut down the 1005 W Burnside parking structure. The strikers were successful in gaining support from the US Postal Service, who refused to cross the picket line to pick up packages for shipment. Dozens of shoppers respected the picket line and didn’t shop Powell’s City of Books Wednesday.
Powell’s workers have been without a contract since it expired 12:01 a.m. October 2nd. Contract negotiations were scheduled to resume yesterday and today.
At a rally outside of the Burnside Powell’s, Kevin Maniak, a Powell’s worker, said he is “waiting for them (Powell’s) to do something, make an honest proposal.”
Emahlie MacDaniels has been working on and off at Powell’s since 1998 and has remained at Powell’s while attending school for the last two years. Working 23 hours a week to maintain her health benefits, MacDaniels said, “Balancing work and school is usually fine, but there are some time conflicts.”
MacDaniels has one day a week off from school and work.Powell’s is attempting to cut workers economic package, meaning health care and wages, as MacDaniels describes it.
“If our cost of living raises are reduced to two percent over four years, compared to six percent over three years in our last contract, and our health care premiums more than double per month, plus the introduction (by Powell’s) of co-pays up to 40 percent of the cost per visit and an increase in prescriptions cost of up to seven and a half what people currently pay,” MacDaniels said, “then the median employee who makes around $9 per hour won’t be able to afford to be covered by the (Powell’s) health care plan.”
Some Powell’s workers depend on affordable health care for life-saving medications. If the cuts proposed by management go into the next contract, workers who depend on Powell’s health care could experience severe health complications. MacDaniels explained the effects the cuts would have on her and her partner.
“The current health care plan means I can see my doctor who knows my medical history even though she is not a preferred provider,” MacDaniels said. “If the health care costs increase, as proposed by management, I will not be able to afford to see my doctor.” MacDaniels would only have limited health care through PSU if management cuts Powell’s workers economic package.
The story for MacDaniels partner, who also works at Powell’s, would be drastically different. “My partner … would no longer be able to afford health insurance and would be unable to manage a medical disaster or even a regular check up,” MacDaniels explained.
Currently MacDaniels and her partner are living paycheck to paycheck.
“We can’t afford anything costly and unexpected like accidents or unforeseen health problems,” MacDaniels said.”I would like a fair contract. I want to keep the same basic contract we have had over the past three years.”
Powell’s was planning on opening another warehouse, with the labor of non-union workers, known as “scabs.”
Winser said to Powell’s management in bargaining, “You don’t want to go there,” implying they would picket outside the new warehouse, potentially preventing the “scabs” from working.
“The company is expanding and prospering from the work that we do,” MacDaniels said. “I want health care I can afford. I want to show up to work and do my job instead of standing outside on strike.”
According to MacDaniels, Powell’s workers have received support throughout the Portland community from “the teachers union, social workers, Jobs with Justice, the Wobblies (International Workers of the World or I.W.W.), the Teamsters, nurses and local janitors.”
“It helps to have an organization to educate you about your rights as a worker, who is watching the employer for unsafe working conditions and prevents unequal treatment of workers,” MacDaniels said. Commenting on unions in general, MacDaniels thinks they give “greater protection to workers who are in them.”