Portland's iconic Powell's Books rehires 100 laid-off workers to meet online surge in orders

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(CNN) — Powell's Books, the legendary Oregon-based bookstore, announced it has rehired more than 100 of its workers amid the flood of online orders it has received since closing its stores because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Owner and CEO Emily Powell thanked customers for their support in a statement on the store's website.

"Your kind words, messages of encouragement, ideas for perseverance, and orders for books have taken our breath away," she wrote. "Thanks to your orders on Powells.com, we now have over 100 folks working at Powell's again -- all full time with benefits. Most importantly, we're working hard to keep everyone safe and healthy."

Powell's Books, which describes itself as the world's largest independent bookstore, employed more than 530 people, according to its website.

However, as coronavirus concerns increased nationwide, the indie bookstore chain closed its five Portland-area stores on March 15 and a result had to lay off the majority of its employees.

"At this time, we feel we cannot honor the social distancing guidelines presented by the CDC and have temporarily closed our five Portland-area stores," the bookstore wrote in a message to customers on its website.

In a letter to employees on March 17, Powell warned that she didn't expect to be able to reopen the stores for at least eight weeks. She said the chain couldn't afford to pay worker's salaries and benefits while it is closed.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 5, which represents Powell's employees, welcomed the bookstore's decision to close to protect workers on its website, but criticized its handling of the layoffs.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the union said that "only 49 frontline bookstore workers have been recalled to their former positions."

"The other 51+ are management staff, doing frontline bookseller, shelver, and shipping work, instead of the union workers who were trained to do this work and did that work everyday," the statement said.

The union said it had filed a formal challenge to Powell's Books actions.

"While we understand the difficult nature of the situation COVID-19 has created in our society, we remain incredibly disappointed in how Powell's has dealt with this situation and treated workers," the statement said.

Powell's said it will keep its website sales running for as long as it can, and promised to reopen its stores as soon as it can.

"Right now, however, our focus is on keeping Powell's moving, keeping our community healthy, taking care of our wonderful customers, and having as many folks working with health insurance as our sales can support," Powell wrote.

The story was first published on CNN.com "Portland's iconic Powell's Books rehires 100 laid-off workers to meet online surge in orders"