Marty Kruse was one of the first people I met when I began working with the Powell’s employees to form a union. He was at the first meeting. He was outspoken and I soon learned he was a controversial character in the store, some loved him and some did not. He was a free spirit as I came to know him. My organizing experience taught me to be a bit wary of individuals like Marty when first meeting people who wanted to form a union. Often controversial individuals, who are not on good terms with management put off others who might be interested in forming a union.
While Marty struck me as this person who could alienate others, that is not to say I disliked him. Marty was a force, opinionated, unafraid, social, out there, and willing to challenge the managers of the store. He managed the Poetry and small press area in the store. Poetry and small press was his passion and it meant that Marty had contracts with a lot of tiny, unique publishers and presses and individuals. Marty’s knowledge of that world was valuable, it was the expertise he brought to Powells, and his love.
“Dumbing down” the sections, dispersing the ordering responsibilities to many individuals, taking away some of Marty’s autonomy did not sit well with him and many other employees shared his concern. It was one of the important themes of the organizing drive at the bookstore, preserving those special relationships employees had within their subject sections their areas of expertise.
I attended Marty’s disciplinary meeting with one other person. I don’t remember the details of the afternoon meeting. I can imagine that Marty had received some other discipline prior to the meeting and I believe some of the discipline was due to tardiness or absence. Marty’s life was full of activities and he was not one to follow a strict schedule. I don’t believe his delinquency merited dismissal. But, he was fired that day in early October.
The first of ten union Unfair Labor Practice, ULP, charges were filed after Marty was fired. The ULP led to the first work stoppage at Powells. Unfair Labor Practice charges protected employees who participated, they could not be replaced for their job actions. It was a tactic used throughout the contract campaign.
The work stoppage that day was brief, about fifteen minutes, “a cup of coffee”, it was the first step of union activism for many employees and it shut down the Burnside store for a few minutes. Most importantly it demonstrated for employees the power they held by withdrawing their labor. Many employees came and stood just outside the door on the “front porch” on Burnside and 10th. The strike sent a shockwave through the store. By the time the management team was aware of the strike, employees were headed back to work.