By Don McIntosh
When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, Powell’s Books closed all locations and laid off 397 workers. Unlike workers at other retailers, Powell’s workers had a union contract that offered them recall rights when jobs reappear. Members of ILWU Local 5, they filled out recall forms, and waited. Powell’s airport store closed permanently, but the company eventually reopened its flagship Burnside store and its Hawthorne and Cedar Hills stores, and has brought back about 150 workers so far.
But on April 6, 2021, Powell’s CEO Patrick Bassett announced that workers’ recall rights are now expired. That relies on an interpretation of the contract that Local 5 disagrees with. After the announcement, Powell’s posted job ads and began interviewing applicants. As of press time, the company hadn’t hired outside workers ahead of its own laid-off workers, but if it does, Local 5 representative Myka Dubay expects to know within a few weeks. Local 5 has filed a grievance protesting the termination of recall rights, and if the two sides can’t resolve it, it could be decided by an arbitrator this fall.