Powell’s Books Employees Walked Out on Labor Day

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From Publishers Weekly:

Hundreds of employees at the locations of Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., staged a one-day strike on Labor Day to protest stalled negotiations between ILWU Local 5, the union which has represented Powell’s staff since 2000, and management. The union’s contract ran out on June 7, and employees and management are at an impasse after negotiations have stalled. Last week, the union filed claim of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board against the bookstore, claiming management is not engaging in good faith and is stalling.

At the heart of the issues is the wage structure, with employees arguing that wages have not kept pace with inflation. As reported by the Oregonian, union reps have stated that the majority of employees start at $16.25 an hour, which is not close to the livable wage, which is now $21.85 for the area. Powell’s says it has offered to raise the starting wage for top employees to over $22 and offer as much as $24.25, after increases.

The union characterized Powell’s “last, best, final offer,” offered on August 11, as a lowball proposal. It said that booksellers start at $15.45 an hour, the area’s minimum wage, while 85% make below livable wage, which is $21.85.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

25 thoughts on “Powell’s Books Employees Walked Out on Labor Day”

  1. Portland has July 3.6% unemployment rate. 4% is considered to be full employment. That means it is easy to get another job.

    $21.58 is the published Portland living wage for a single person. Note it moves to $40.67 when one child is added. Consumers won’t pay what is necessary to meet various living wage standards for a BandM bookstore when the same book is only a click away.

    • Exactly.
      Especially when cumulative inflation from 2020 to today (18%) means the cover price will either go up or go away. I’ve been betting on the former: $40 hardcovers with minimal or no discount at B&M vs B&N online at $28.
      (And Amazon at $24.)

      Yet again, Niven&Pournelle’s CRAZY EDDIE rears his head.

      “When a city has grown so overlarge and crowded that it is in immediate danger of collapse… when food and clean water flow into the city at a rate just sufficient to feed every mouth, and every hand must work constantly to keep it that way… when all transportation is involved in moving vital supplies, and none is left over to move people out of the city should the need arise… then it is that Crazy Eddie leads the movers of garbage out on strike for better working conditions.”

      A point of THE MOTE IN GOD’S EYE is that humans as a species are Crazy Eddies.

      • I’m reminded of the push for electric semi trucks. They have two 8,000 pound batteries, so cargo tonnage is reduced. They can go 300 miles on a single charge, and then it takes eight hours to charge. Crazy Eddie gets around…

      • “Unrestricted laissez faire capitalism allocates resources in a most efficient way to satisfy human wants without regard to the rationality or morality of those desires.” When Jerry Pournelle wrote those words, he did not mean them as unstinting praise.

          • Not since Teddy Roosevelt took on the Robber Barons.

            American capitalism is, if anything, too fettered by DC operatives intervening to favor the friends of tbe party. Worse, the gerontocracy has added *hurting* the disfavored to their playbook, to the point of suing non-union companies for *obeying* federal laws. Worse things are coming.

            The Historical and Economic illiteracy of the voting cadres is a bigger threat to the republic than the crooks they have been sending to DC instead of jail for influence peddling.

            Instead of focusing on the real issues, the masses are latching on to ideological-driven myths like CRT, “fascism”, and QAnon. All of which will fade away when the real crisis of the 20’s hits.

            The judgment of the future will not be kind.

            • Even in TR’s time, capitalism depended on property rights and their enforcement. Contracts are necessary for capitalism to function, and a legal mechanism to enforce them was necessary. That eliminates the unfettered laissez faire. These conditions are necessary for capitalism, and also limit the capitalist.

              • 100%.
                Just watch the ongoing stampede out of China to see what the lack of a reliable regulatory environment and enforceable contracts does to the country’s economy.
                Economy 101 adding a new chapter to history 101.

            • Capitalists and communists are both right on that.

              Marx saw the division of labor as the root of all human problems. His solution was elimination of the division, otherwise know as specialization. That was indeed never tried.

              • The bees have true communism ala Marx.

                Problem is Marx’s solution was aimed at a specific situation, early 19th England, which had evolved out of existence long before anybody tried to implement it, by force in Russia, voluntarily in Israel. The first approach doomed an empire, the latter worked…for a while. But the kibbutz have since evolved into a mildly interesting form of collectivist…capitalism.
                (Good fodder for SF stories.)

  2. This isn’t only about how brick-and-mortar bookstores can no longer afford to pay their workers enough to live on because they have an obsolete business model. The entire country has been undergoing a slow-motion economic collapse for many years now, especially the inland areas, and much of Europe too. Western civilization itself has an obsolete business model.

      • What you say is true today, but it also would have been true during the Great Depression. The trends are all going in the wrong direction, and have been since the 1970s, thanks to the replacement of industry by financialization, and those trends have been accelerating of late. This means people are beginning to notice, especially in those parts of the country where the skies are crisscrossed with the contrails of Gulfstream jets headed to Palo Alto and Seattle from Boston and D.C. Things are about to get awkward.

        • Real wages in 2019 are identical to what they were in February 1973. In 2019 dollars both are $23.24. That’s a really interesting 50-year cycle.

          What people are definitely noticing is the inflation since Jan 2021. The CPI is up 16% since Jan 2021. In the previous 32 month period, the CPI moved up 4%.

          But, inflation is a monetary problem. It has little to do with prevailing business models.

          Things aren’t going to get awkward. They are awkward.

          • In some narrow technical sense, real wages might be the same as they were half a century ago (although I gather that the gentleman at Shadowstats begs to differ even with that contention), but those things that define a middle-class life are increasingly out of reach for many. Far fewer teenagers these days are able to afford a car, for example. Similarly, the average age of a first-time homeowner used to be in the twenties but is now thirty-four, and forty-three percent of the time Millennials only manage to buy a house with parental help. As for having children, who can afford that these days, thanks to student loan debt (which is virtually compulsory in our credentialist society)? And a nation whose people cannot afford to reproduce isn’t going to be a nation for long.

            But, inflation is a monetary problem. It has little to do with prevailing business models.

            Inflation seems more a feature than a bug of our current system, since it forces people to invest in things that might outpace it, such as the stock market, lest their earnings disappear like fairy gold.

            • When was car ownership normal for teens? What year? Where?

              And student loans? That is a choice. Lots of people who didn’t burden themselves with loans and worthless degrees bought cars, houses, and stock.

              Problem solved. Make a down payment on a house with the money that would have gone for stocks.

              And who can afford children? In 2022 the parents of 3.5 million babies. Maybe the folks who borrow huge amounts for a worthless degree won’t be passing those genes on.

              • “Think of it as evolution in action.”

                And it’s not just genetic evolution but also social and cultural evolution. Which is why the catfights over sterilizing children comes in.

                For real fun, imagine assembling a rster for a self-sustaining Moon or Mars colony and having to choose between two ssme skilled candidates, one sterile and the other not. Which one brings more to the self-sustaining side? 😉
                (Do consider the examples of Russia and, especially China, both societies in economic and demographic decline for lack of personnel for the current generation. To say nothing of the next.

                Evolution in action.
                Fun concept, no? Brought to you by the fine teamof Niven&Pournelle 40 years ago. And yes, they were talking social evolution. Much faster than generics.

              • The number of teenagers with driver’s licenses has been dropping like a stone since the 90s, as any number of media outlets have noted with varying degrees of puzzlement.

                And 3.5 million babies sounds like a lot, but it’s down more than half a million from as recently as 2009, the time of the last big financial crisis, and even then American birth rates were unsustainably low.

                • Some states have increased the drivers license age requirement, but it’s no more difficult to get a license now than it was in 1973. It’s a lifestyle choice. Like living in Mom’s basement.

                  But, what does having a license have to do with being able to afford a car in either 1973 or 2023? What does it have to do with “obsolete business models?”

                  The birth rate is down, but 3.5 million indicates lots of folks are indeed having children. I think the question was, “As for having children, who can afford that these days, thanks to student loan debt?”

                  The answer is simple: Those who didn’t borrow money for worthless degrees, and those with useful degrees who paid off their loans.

                  The world doesn’t revolve around people who made very poor financial decisions.

                • There are more pressing things to be legislating age limits for, both at the upper and lower end, than cars.

                  Any reduction in car sales is due to the regulatory demand for more complex fuel efficiency and the insistence in force feeding the adoption of EVs. $40K average car prices isn’t due to the economy per se. For a while, fresh out millenials’ temporary migration to the big cities led many to do without cars but as they grew up and discovered the megacities are no place to raise kids, the ‘burbs took over. And ‘burb commutes means cars, post covid.

                  Car culture is no more going away than gun culture.

                  When it comes to demographics the US fertility rate (1.7-1.9, depending on the economy growth rate) is the best among developed nations by far, in s small group of stable countries, well away from the two extremes, globally.

                  That actually is due to the boomers, primarily, for actually having kids and say what you will aboug millenials they exist and are a relatively large generstion. Zoomers are a smaller generation but their foibles align pretty well with the economy’s needs when they come of age.

                  Demogtaphically the one region of the world set throigh st least 2060 is NorthAm as a whole. SouthAM shoukd be…okay…demographically. If they ever get past their oligarchical protectionisn they’ll.do find. If not, they’ll have to muddle through.

                  Demographically it is Africa and Asia in deep doo-doo but for opposing reasons.

                • @elliot01

                  That getting a driver’s license (which presumably signals intent to drive) is no more difficult today than it was fifty years ago makes my point for me. Has human nature really changed so much in the last quarter of a century that hormone-filled teenagers would rather stay at home with mommy and daddy than go out exploring the world? Either xenostrogens and seed oils have wreaked even more havoc than I suspected, or else a great many of us, especially the young, have gotten too poor to afford to do much more than play video games. (When it comes to concealing social decline, digital technology serves as an excellent bandaid.)

                  And yes, it’s fun to make jokes about people who were conned into getting worthless degrees such as Gender Studies before their brains had even finished maturing. physically. I’ve engaged in that low-effort pastime myself. But what of those who majored in Computer Science only to find out too late that companies would rather hire an equally qualified (on paper, anyhow) H1B worker for less money who can’t even quit his job without ending up on the next plane back to Bangalore? Or the Petroleum Geologist struggling to pay off student loans who is unable find work thanks to Green energy policies? Or the radiologist whose job reading hospital x-rays just got outsourced? Do we just tell them tough luck, you should have made better choices when you were eighteen?

                  And we haven’t even talked about the fate of the half of the population with IQs on the left side of the bell curve. They’re not going to be HVAC technicians, much less aeronautical enginners.

                  If being smart beforehand were easy, we would all be Bitcoin millionaires.

                • I recall lots of us had neither money nor video games. What could we have possibly done? I confess… I never thought of blaming the obsolete business models.

      • Indeed.
        It is tbe ones making a living with skill, knowledge, creativity.
        Just showing up with a strong back and a willing disposition won’t cut it, regardless of what naysers may prop up. The magic 8 ball is quite clear on the prospects of the strikers: “Outlook not so good”. The only question is the timeframe of the innevitable.

        The only way to survive and prosper in capitalist systems is to ignore the delusional rabble rousers and learn a minimum of economics because economics doesn’t respond to human dreams and delusions, only the law of unintended consequences. Rage as they may, the DEAD HAND always wins. It is the way of capialism and why it outlives all other economic systems, fetters and all.

        Capitalism, like democracy, is the worst of systems, except for all others.

        Just like Stalinist Lenilism collapsed under the weight of its nature, so too will “socialism with chinese characteristics, ” democratic socialism” “dirigism” and all other statist collectivist attempts to avoid the innevitable control of THE DEAD HAND. And soon.

  3. Soon coming to the B&M bookstore near you.

    “Powell’s says it has offered to raise the starting wage for top employees to over $22 and offer as much as $24.25, after increases.”

    And it’s rejected as “lowball”.
    I wonder how many b&m stores can survive even that price structure.

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