Bi-Mart in hot water again with NLRB

EUGENE - Bi-Mart Inc. is in hot water again with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over its dealings with warehouse employees and their union - Teamsters Local 206.

On Aug. 1 the regional director of the NLRB issued an unfair labor practice complaint that involved six charges filed by the union between April and September 1999. A hearing has been set for Nov. 13.

About 70 Bi-Mart distribution warehouse workers voted for Teamsters representation in April 1998. The secret-ballot election was conducted by the NLRB.

Bi-Mart waged a nasty campaign to keep the union out, and when that was unsuccessful, the animosity carried over into negotiations, union officials said. Numerous unfair labor practice charges have been filed by the Teamsters alleging bad-faith bargaining and intimidation of employees active in the union.

The NLRB found merit in some of the charges last year and was prepared to issue a complaint when Bi-Mart negotiated a settlement with the regional board. Part of the settlement required Bi-Mart to post notices at the distribution warehouse stating that it would not threaten employees with any sort of reprisals for supporting the union and that it would bargain in good faith with the Teamsters.

Jump to August 2000 and nothing seems to have changed.

Stefan Ostrach, a business representative of Local 206, said the most recent unfair labor practice complaint found that Bi-Mart management adopted unlawful rules governing employee conduct, that it discriminated against union supporters in disciplinary actions, that it made changes in working conditions without dealing with the union, and that it has stopped negotiating with the union altogether.

According to the NLRB complaint, Bi-Mart withdrew recognition of the union in June 1999.

Since the trouble began, Local 206 has orchestrated a highly-visible campaign against Bi-Mart. Union members have leafleted many Bi-Mart stores in the state and have engaged in informational leafleting activities at community functions the company sponsors, including several county fairs.

Bi-Mart is on the Do Not Patronize/Unfair List of the Oregon AFL-CIO.

The Teamsters were planning a massive leafleting campaign Aug. 15-20 at the Bi-Mart/Lane County Fair in Eugene, but that was before fair commissioners convened a meeting to set new rules restricting activities at the fairgrounds.

Some of the new rules, according to Ostrach, included no groups of more than two people when engaged in "expressive or political activity," and when doing so, no signs larger than 11-by-14 inches. The fair board also restricted all leafleting.

The Teamsters threatened to file a lawsuit, which resulted in a meeting with the fair board and a waiving of all the new rules - with the exception of leafleting inside the fair grounds.

The Lane County Labor Council has a booth at the fair where it will be able to leaflet from the booth and volunteers staffing the booth can wear "Boycott Bi-Mart" T-shirts.

"It's taken a long time, but the U.S. government has finally agreed with what we've said that the company's labor practices are unfair, and Bi-Mart has broken the law," Ostrach said. "We are asking everyone who supports workers' rights not to shop at Bi-Mart."

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