Sunday, August 1, 2021
Aug. 1, 2021

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Powell’s, union at odds over rehiring practices


PORTLAND — Talks on rehiring laid-off workers at Powell’s Books have broken off amid continuing rancor between the Portland bookstore and the union representing its workers.

Powell’s employed about 400 union workers across its stores before COVID-19 but laid off 85 percent of them in March 2020, when the bookstore closed all four of its locations in the pandemic’s early days.

Powell’s closed its airport location permanently last year, and its Home & Garden store on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. Its other three locations reopened months ago. The company and union haven’t been able to come to terms on how rehiring staff.

Powell’s claimed that workers’ rights to return to their old jobs had expired under terms of its union contract with ILWU Local 5, and that talks on how to extend those rights for another six months had failed to produce an agreement. The union disputes that, but after the two sides failed to reach a deal on the rehiring process, Powell’s began posting open positions publicly in April – meaning laid-off workers had to apply to get their old jobs back.

Even without an agreement, Powell’s says its hires are overwhelmingly past employees. The bookstore said Wednesday it has hired 198 people for union jobs since the beginning of the pandemic and that 182 of those had worked at Powell’s previously.

Negotiations continued through May, the union said in a statement Wednesday, over how Powell’s would recall workers and whether they would retain pay levels and vacation accrual rates that were in place before their layoffs.

The union said Wednesday that Powell’s latest offer required workers to give up labor grievances filed against the bookstore over the past four months.

“This would be a wholesale abandonment of the remaining laid-off workers’ contractual rights and union membership,” the union said in its statement.

Powell’s CEO Patrick Bassett said in a statement Wednesday that company’s offers to the union are beyond what is required by its contract, and that the bookstore anticipates hiring more laid-off workers.

“Our continued hope is that former Powell’s Books employees will express interest in future opportunities and secure reemployment with the company,” Bassett said. “Our goal is 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.”