College students often whine about the high price of textbooks.
But some students this fall may be lucky to find any books at all.
An 11-day-old labor strike at United Parcel Service has stranded thousands of textbooks for Inland Northwest students preparing to return to college classrooms and public schools during the next few weeks.
Officials are scrambling for alternatives to avoid book and school supply shortages. As the first day of school approaches, the anxiety mounts.
“It’s going to be ugly if this doesn’t get worked out,” said text clerk Pat Martinson at the Whitworth College bookstore, where school begins Sept. 3. “We have a lot of empty shelves.”
UPS normally provides 80 percent of the nation’s package delivery service. But the strike, which involves 185,000 Teamster workers nationwide, has created a logjam of orders, leaving textbooks from art to zoology sitting in trucks, warehouses and publishers’ loading docks.
Students and faculty at Washington State University and the University of Idaho, which return to school in two weeks, may be spared because the schools had contracts with an alternative freight carrier, Roadway Package Systems.
But students at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene may have to squelch their school spirit and put off purchasing the obligatory T-shirt with the NIC logo.
Boxes of T-shirts and sweat shirts are in limbo, along with thousands of dollars of electronics, computer and other school supplies en route to the NIC bookstore, according to manager Bill Semmler.
College officials are arranging alternative ways to receive the supplies, Semmler said. He’s ordering duplicate shipments from some vendors and simply waiting out less pressing items, like a shipment of backpacks stuck somewhere between Seattle and Coeur d’Alene.
“I’m getting invoices for stuff that I don’t have,” Semmler said. “The mail works great. The invoices are coming through the mail, but the products aren’t coming through UPS. We have not seen a UPS truck since the day before the strike started.”
The strike also may leave some high schools short on books. Shipments have slowed at Mead’s new Mount Spokane High School, just when it was stocking its library with 18,000 books.
“If you hear a loud scream, or see this raving lunatic running down the street, you’ll know my books didn’t come in,” said librarian Victoria Stockdale.
The Association of American Publishers in Washington, D.C., which represents 50 publishers of educational texts, last week asked President Clinton to help ensure the timely delivery of books to all schools.
Relief can’t come quick enough at Gonzaga University, where 4,500 students return Sept. 2. While large classes such as biology are well-stocked, the small classes may have to improvise until their textbooks get through the mail, said campus store director Dave Heince.
“They may have to make copies from the instructors’ manual,” he said.
Until the strike, UPS was delivering 10 to 15 boxes per day to Whitworth, said Martinson, the bookstore clerk. Now the college is lucky to get one a day.
“I have a stack of purchase orders an inch thick, already ordered and awaiting delivery,” she said. “If an order has to change, we can’t guarantee to our professors that it will be there in time for class.”
Cathy Scott, director of college stores for the Community Colleges of Spokane, said she’s grateful that the schools don’t open fall quarter until Sept. 15.
“When you can’t get your books, everybody gets upset,” she said. “We can’t sell the books, instructors can’t assign homework and students can’t do homework. It’s a mess.”
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