11/11/08

Teamsters strike enters week 8

More Oak Harbor stories: hereMore Teamsters: here • More strike stories: here

Militant unionists stop working 'for as long as it takes'

Teamsters for Wenatchee’s Oak Harbor Freight Lines would rather be driving their trucks, but for the last seven weeks the only steering they’ve done is of public opinion. Some eight striking workers picket the entrance to the Auburn-based company’s East Penny Road warehouse over three shifts from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. They also sometimes follow those company trucks destined for local routes and picket when the strike-defying driver stops for a pickup or delivery.

“We’d just like everyone in the valley to know that we’re on strike and it’s not about money. It’s about working conditions and unfair labor practices,” said picketer Tim Smith, 53, of East Wenatchee. Oak Harbor employs some 1,300 people in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California and Nevada.

Union drivers walked off the job Sept. 22, after Teamsters rejected the company’s “last, best and final offer.” They’ve been without a labor contract since October 2007.

Oak Harbor spokesman Mike Hobby denies company wrongdoing.

The union has filed charges against Oak Harbor with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging the company has:

• Circumvented the union to deal directly with employees over solution of grievances and contract terms.

• Threatened employees that they’ll be replaced if they strike.

Promised additional benefits to employees who stay on the job.

Al Hobart, regional Teamsters spokesman, said all the charges violate federal labor laws. He said the board should rule on the charges in a few weeks.

“Oak Harbor has shown no sign of meeting us halfway,” Hobart said. “I believe their intent is to attack the union and get rid of the union at any cost. And their actions reflect that.”

Non-union drivers or union drivers who’ve crossed the picket line now pilot company trucks.

Hobby said the sides have failed to resolve their dispute despite nearly 30 meetings. He said 124 of the nearly 560 Teamsters have defied the strike and returned to work. The company continues to pay some 60 non-union contract drivers who work out of its Auburn and Portland facilities.

“We’re doing everything we can to get the unfair labor practice charges resolved,” Hobby said.

He said revenues are down about 35 percent from this time last year, and about half of total customers have decided not to use the company until the strike is resolved.

But he said statistics show on-time deliveries are up and the number of damaged or short shipments are down from a year ago.

“We have to operate the business,” he said. “Our families rely on us for jobs.”

On the Wenatchee picket line, striking drivers say they’re in it for as long as it takes.

“We’re into it this far. It would be foolish to all of a sudden give in,” said picketer Stan Radoslovich, 53, of Cashmere.

The picketers Wednesday said people have stopped by with spare ribs, pizzas, donuts and wood for their fire pit. One person gave them a $100 bill. Naysayers also surface.

While Smith and Radoslovich picketed Wednesday, a motorist yelled “Get a job!” as he drove by.

Smith yelled a quick reply and then said, “I’ve got a job. I’m just trying to hang on to it.”

(yakima-herald.com)

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