Powell's City of Books is a genteel world of literature, where customers sip lattes, roam a seemingly infinite number of aisles and find knowledgeable sales people.
But beneath this patina of civility an intense labor battle is brewing. A core group of organizers is fighting to convince a majority of some 330 nonmanagement workers to unionize the company Owner Michael Powell is very much against it.
As perhaps befits the intellectual backdrop of Powell's seven stores. the union battle is being waged with a degree of refinement and polite discourse - by both labor and management - that is rare in the world of union strife Still, emotions occasionally run high and voices are sometimes raised. The leaders on both sides badly want to win.
"This union drive doesn't have a shrill tenor to it. We talk very rationally, very intellectually," said John McMahon, head of a section in the Burnside store's literature department. "You won't hear a lot of people badmouthing their supervisors, they just basically feel like there's sort of an obliviousness'(to workers' needs)."
McMahon is one of the core group of employees that. has pursued organization at Powell's, whose main …