March 20, 2009 Volume 110 Number 6

Strike ends at Oak Harbor, but Teamsters dispute continues

International Brotherhood of Teamsters ended its unfair labor practice strike at Oak Harbor Freight Lines, but the labor dispute isn’t over.

About 600 Teamsters members struck the privately-held regional trucking company Sept. 22 — alleging, in five separate charges, that the company had broken labor law. One of those charges was later withdrawn, and another was dismissed by National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) agent who investigated, but three minor charges were found to have merit. The company agreed Jan. 30 to settle those charges by changing some company practices and posting a workplace notice.

Once the charges were settled, for union members to stay out would have made it an “economic” strike, which would have given Oak Harbor the right to permanently replace them. So Teamsters International Vice-President Al Hobart announced Feb. 12 that strikers were willing to return to work.

After several weeks of wrangling over the subject, Hobart made it clear that the union return-to-work offer was unconditional. Some drivers and dock workers returned the first week of March. But others were laid off due to lack of work. The Everett, Washington, terminal is closed altogether — temporarily, the company said. Business is down due to the strike and economic conditions.

Teamsters say Oak Harbor lost more than half its business during the strike. Striking drivers used their relationships with local customers to get them to switch to other shippers, while a union “corporate campaign” persuaded big companies like JC Penney and The Gap to cancel accounts.

Workers returned without the protection of a union contract. Their last contract expired Oct. 31, 2007. Oak Harbor imposed its own terms on returning strikers. It ceased making contributions to the Teamster-sponsored health and pension plans. Workers say the company isn’t honoring seniority rules, and managers are doing the work of bargaining unit members.

Oak Harbor also refused to return 13 workers, saying they were suspended for supposed strike misconduct, and that more suspensions could come. Meanwhile, anti-union workers —helped by the National Right to Work Foundation — have petitioned the NLRB to decertify the union at eight terminals: Auburn, Mt. Vernon, Pasco, Spokane, and Wenatchee, Washington; Medford and Salem, Oregon; and Boise, Idaho. The terminals, totaling 250 workers, make up nearly half the company’s union membership. The NLRB has not yet set election dates for workers at those terminals to vote on whether to stay union.

Every indication is that Oak Harbor Freight Lines orchestrated the entire conflict expressly to bust the union. Even before contract negotiations began in 2007, Oak Harbor co-president David Vander Pol told the Teamsters’ Hobart that company owners had met with East Coast shipping company managers who’d defeated Teamster strikes and eliminated the union, and that Oak Harbor was prepared to pursue that. Up to two years before the strike, the company was contracting to recruit striker replacements. To represent it in bargaining, Oak Harbor hired a law firm that specializes in union avoidance. And when the strike began, the company returned to operation almost immediately, using workers brought in by a strikebreaking temp agency.

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