It was the first and only time I was ever at Amburgery and Rubin’s law office, the law firm representing Michael Powell. The office was near the waterfront in the newer area with condominiums. I believe it was a Saturday late morning. Howard Ruben was the management spokesperson, Michael Powell was not at the meeting. Joining me was the president of the ILWU, Brian McWilliams. My boss Peter Olney was with me as well and probably at least one employee from Powells Books.
It was a short meeting. A year had passed since the union election and bargaining had been long, frustrating and confrontational. Negotiations were now in Federal mediation with both sides stuck on several issues. For me, there was no doubt that Powells had hopes for another election and decertification of the union, the union would go away.
Sitting in the cool conference room, I don’t remember the small talk and chat before Howard Ruben, the management attorney spoke. He did not hide or deny their desire for a decertification election. But, the management team had done their homework. Howard said they believed that they could collect the thirty percent interest in decertification (the minimum required by law) and file for a new election. Then, speaking slowly, quietly and clearly disappointed, he said that they didn’t believe they would win a decertification election. This was an extraordinary moment for me. It was a recognition from the management team, for the first time, that they were defeated.
I was exhausted from the prolonged negotiations process. I wondered many times if I could somehow get out of the job and leave Powells and still maintain my personal integrity. It wasn’t possible and so I soldiered on, working toward the first contract.
I left the meeting rejuvenated. When could we wrap up the contract I wondered? The mediation sessions and negotiations continued for two more months and on August 1st we reached a tentative agreement.