Powell's workers ratify first contract

Employees at Powell's Books in Portland overwhelming ratified their first union contract Aug. 10.

With more than an 80 percent turnout, workers - members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 5 - approved the three-year deal 293 to 37. There are 420 persons in the bargaining unit.

The ratification vote ends more than a year of protracted union elections and negotiations at the independent bookstores.

"Now you can shop 'til you drop at a union bookstore in Portland," said Mary Winzig, at a rally outside the flagship store on West Burnside Street and 10th Avenue.

The agreement increases wages by 18 percent, 6 percent each year. It secures and improves Powell's health plan and establishes a consistent grievance procedure for dispute resolution, the union said.

And the contract contains full union security language with a dues checkoff provision, something owner Michael Powell originally refused to accept.

Union security requires employees to join the union in order to work at the store.

According to Marcy Rein of the ILWU Organizing Department, the contract recognizes religious objections to financial support for the union, per federal labor law. But the company and the union agreed to consider a limited number of non-religious objections for a limited time during implementation of the pact.

"It's been absolutely incredible," said Indira Allegra, who was hired after employees voted to unionize. "I started in a neutral space before deciding to jump in. I wanted to be a part of this gig."

The contract took effect Aug. 14.

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