By COLIN STAUB
Two years ago, workers at Hood River Distillers (HRD) walked off the job alleging unfair labor practices by their employer. HRD responded by illegally firing them and hiring anti-union law firms Bullard Law and Tonkon Torp to battle it out in court. In decisions over the past few months, the National Labor Relations Board has consistently ruled in favor of the union.
About 25 Teamsters Local 670-represented workers began striking at Hood River Distillers (HRD) production and warehouse facilities in May 2020, days after the company decided that long-running negotiations were at an impasse. The company’s final offer was three years of 1% wage increases, while the union proposed 2.75%, 3% and 3.25%. (The company also wanted to modify health benefits, increase the threshold for benefit eligibility and have the right to change retirement contributions at any time.)
When HRD decided it had exhausted its duty to bargain, and implemented the terms of its final offer, workers walked off the job.
After a summer on strike and little progress in negotiating, workers offered to return to work at the end of August. But the company had hired scab workers during the strike (after first staffing the facilities with managers, administrative staff and family members, according to court documents). U.S. labor law bars companies from permanently replacing workers in unfair labor practice strikes. HRD brought back a handful of strikers, but said most of their positions had been filled. On a since-deleted portion of its website, the company said it was “simply returning the commitment and loyalty” the replacements had demonstrated.
- In May 2021 a federal judge ordered HRD to rehire the fired workers, stating that not doing so would allow a “serious flouting” of the National Labor Relations Act. Today almost all of them are back on the job, working alongside many of the replacement employees who remain on the job.
- In December 2021, an administrative law judge ruled the union and company were NOT at an impasse when HRD implemented its offer. The judge ruled that HRD’s move directly led to the strike, making it an unfair labor practice strike (again, that means the workers can’t be permanently replaced.) The company appealed that decision to the agency’s five-member Board in Washington, D.C., and its decision could set future precedent.
- In 2021, a replacement worker tried to decertify the bargaining unit and got 24 replacement workers to vote for that, providing the needed majority. But in February 2022, the NLRB tossed out the election, finding that the company’s unfair labor practices directly influenced the election. (Bullard Law appealed the dismissal in March, and the legal battle continues.)
- HRD fired two workers for using profanity and flipping off management and scab workers during the strike. A judge found that those firings were illegal retaliation for the workers’ union activities, but the cases are still tied up in appeals.
“It’s amazing to me that we’re still continuing to go through this process, because at every avenue, the Labor Board has sided with us,” Local 670 secretary-treasurer Michael Beranbaum told the Labor Press. Beranbaum pointed out that the rulings favoring the union have come under both the Biden- and Trump-era NLRB.
“We disagree with the ALJ’s decision and have raised our objections with the Board,” said HRD Chief Financial Officer Erica Mitchell in a statement emailed to the Labor Press.
“We further believe that the regional director lacked authority to dismiss the decertification petition filed by an employee, and we have filed a request with the NLRB to overturn the decision.”
The Teamsters and HRD have negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement since the strike, and that contract is now in place. It included some of the retirement and medical benefit protections workers were asking for in the first place, as well as some wage increases, Beranbaum said.
With the decertification nullified, the move to permanently replace workers shot down and a new contract in place, the union focus has shifted to trying to reinstate the two workers who the court says were fired for exercising protected union rights. The company’s appeals drag on.
“I wish they would just accept that they’ve lost and move forward on a new day,” Beranbaum said. “But for whatever reason, they continue to fund two law firms that pursue all these appeals. And to me, it’s a waste.”