February 20, 2009 Volume 110 Number 4

Teamsters at Oak Harbor Freight offer to return to work

The Teamsters Union is calling off its strike at Oak Harbor Freight Lines, and announced Feb. 12 an offer to return to work. About 600 Teamsters from the Portland and Seattle area have been on strike since Sept. 22.

The offer comes after the National Labor Relations Board agreed to an out-of-court settlement of unfair labor practice charges against Oak Harbor, which were the grounds for the strike. Under the settlement, Oak Harbor will post a notice promising not to break labor law. The union is appealing that settlement.

U.S. labor law lets employers permanently replace workers who strike over economic disagreements, but not workers who strike to protest “unfair labor practices,” as labor law violations are known. Because the unfair labor practice charges were resolved, the strike could be deemed economic if workers stayed out — and they could be permanently replaced. On the other hand, the union’s offer to return to work obligates Oak Harbor to take them back. That will likely mean job losses for scabs.

The union said the offer to return was contingent on the company allowing every worker to return to their positions, free from reprisal, with no change in the wages or benefits they earned prior to the strike. The union also said the company would need to agree to return to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith a fair agreement. Those conditions mirror what the company is required to do under the law in any case.

Oak Harbor has lost a good deal of business since the strike began, Teamsters say. Most recently, the GAP dropped its account with Oak Harbor because the shipping company’s behavior violated the clothing retailer’s corporate code of conduct.

“In this tumultuous economic climate, it does not benefit the workers or the company to allow Oak Harbor to continue to lose business due to this labor dispute and face the growing risk of closing its doors forever," said Teamsters International Vice President Al Hobart in the official statement announcing the offer to return to work. The strike, which involved Teamster locals in Portland and the Seattle area, was led by the international union.

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