Official storefront image for Powell's.

Workers at Powell’s City of Books Are Officially Going on Strike!

This coming Labor Day, September 4, employees at the famous Powell’s Bookstore will officially go on strike. The picket line will assemble outside the bookstore to rally for better wages for all staff members. Per the Change.org petition, these are some testimonials from current employees:

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“Powell’s low wages are demoralizing. With all we have to juggle during a work day, knowing that many of us are struggling to make rent and feed ourselves is absurd. I go home frustrated, stressed out, and often on the verge of panic attacks thinking about how my labor is used. I’m taken advantage of, we all are. Powell’s workers make these stores run properly; our paychecks should reflect that.”

“I constantly have to choose between medicine, food, and rent. I can’t afford all three. If I miss even a day of work, it means I might not get to eat that week. If I can’t get medicine, I die.” 

“I am honestly terrified that I will have no choice but to start living in my car sometime this year. I cannot afford my rent at my current wage, and I can only qualify for an apartment that costs $850/month… which does not exist in Portland… I currently struggle to feed myself while also trying to help feed my coworkers who cannot afford food… Shame on the company for continuing to pay us poverty wages.” 

“A wage is not fair if only the employer thinks it’s fair… We give our best selves to a company that gives us scraps and expects us to be grateful.” 

“I’ve worked at Powell’s for almost eight years. My wife and I are dual income, no kids… You say Powell’s is a family but won’t pay us enough to afford one.” 

“I am digging spare change out of every crevice of my crappy apartment because I don’t have enough money for fuel. I live off rice I buy from Winco because it’s the cheapest food I can buy. My partner and I take turns paying bills and not paying our student loans so we can keep a roof over our heads. Please, just pay me a living wage. I am one bad day from losing everything.” 

The petition goes on to detail the struggles these workers have faced since 1999, when they first unionized under the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 5 and started advocating for better wages. This most recent bargaining attempt was their eighth, and while they could reach a tepid agreement on some things, they ultimately could not agree on demands for better wages and healthcare. Indeed, Powell’s proposed an “increased” wage that is severely below the state’s minimum wage, as well as a healthcare policy that simply would not align with the proposed wage.

In a statement, Powell’s claimed that its offer was entirely fair, but if that is truly the case, why did 92% of workers agree to strike once their contract expired? I say: let ’em have it! I don’t often go to Powell’s because it’s just a hassle going to downtown Portland, but when I have made the journey, I’ve always noticed how frantic the work environment is in the store. While we can certainly laud the bookstore for surviving and thriving for so long independently, it baffles me that Powell’s doesn’t treat its workers better for all they do. Anyone who has to deal with the ins and outs of working in what’s essentially a tourist trap deserves much better than below minimum wage!

So, if you’re in the area while the strike is occurring, be a dear and don’t cross the picket line. If you must get your books, you can go to any of the many other wonderful bookstores in the city—and while you’re at it, sign the strike petition, and donate!

(featured image: Powell’s Books)


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Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).