BNA Daily Labor Report: Teamsters Offer to Return to Work at Oak Harbor

February 13, 2009: International Brotherhood of Teamsters members who are on strike against Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc., an Auburn, Wash.-based trucking company, have made an unconditional offer to return to work and end the strike begun more than four months ago over alleged unfair labor practices by the company, the union announced Feb. 12.

“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,” Al Hobart, IBT international vice president, said about the union's offer to return to work.

The union's offer is its “attempt to jump-start this process because at this stage both the workers and company are in a lose-lose situation,” Hobart said. The offer was made out of concerns for the workers' livelihood and the company's ability to stay in business, he told BNA Feb. 12.

Approximately 630 truck drivers in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho walked off the job Sept. 22, claiming that the company had engaged in unfair labor practices. The union had been in contract negotiations sporadically with the company since August 2007, at times with the assistance of a federal mediator, to replace a contract that expired Oct. 31, 2007.

Oak Harbor “views the offer as a significant, positive step forward and looks forward to the labor dispute being resolved,” company spokesman Mike Hobby told BNA Feb. 12. However, he added, the company still is reviewing its position and has five days under the National Labor Relations Act to respond to the union.

Company Settles Charges

Both the Teamsters and Oak Harbor have filed numerous unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board Region 19 in Seattle, and some of them have been resolved.

In charges IBT filed July 25, Sept. 9, and Sept. 18 before the strike began, the union claimed that Oak Harbor engaged in direct dealing with employees by creating and maintaining a Web site to elicit feedback from employees and engage them in direct communication; mailing DVD movies about contract proposals to employees' homes, requiring them to watch the DVDs at work, and then questioning them to obtain their sentiments; holding mandatory meetings about contract negotiations; and creating and maintaining a “Drivers Committee” to communicate with employees directly about their work concerns and address their grievances (189 DLR A-7, 9/30/08).

The regional director found merit in the union's allegations, filed under sections 8(a)(1), (2), and (5) of the NLRA, that the company had engaged in direct dealing with the union, according to a letter the regional office sent Jan. 28 to the company and union. Oak Harbor agreed to settle the charges, signed the settlement, and posted a notice in its workplace for 60 days, James McCall, IBT special counsel, told BNA Feb. 12.

McCall noted the basis of the board's finding that the walkout is an unfair labor practice strike is important because it means that the company cannot hire permanent replacement workers and is obligated to reinstate qualified strikers.

Among the statements in the posted notice are:

“We will withdraw all recognition from, and completely disestablish the Auburn Drivers Committee, and refrain from recognizing other similar employee committees as representative of any of our employees for the purpose of dealing with us concerning wages, grievances, rates of pay, or other conditions of employment”;

“We will not use the Drivers Committee to find out what your grievances are”;

“We will recognize the Local Teamsters Unions which are party to our Agreement which expired by its terms on October 31, 2007, … as your sole and exclusive representative of certain of our employees, and, upon request, bargain with those unions for purposes of negotiating your wages, hours, and working conditions.”

“It's pretty broad and pervasive against the company,” McCall said.

The board dismissed because of insufficient evidence the allegations of failure to bargain in good faith, but Hobart said the union intends to file an appeal.

About 10 days ago, Oak Harbor filed 18 charges against the union, claiming egregious conduct on the strike lines, Hobby told BNA.

In announcing the offer to return to work, Hobart in a statement said “[t]his offer is contingent upon the company allowing every worker to return to their positions free from reprisal from management with no change in the wages or benefit they earned prior to the strike. The company must also agree to return to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith a fair agreement.”

The workers, based at various company locations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, are represented by Teamsters locals 81, 174, 231, 252, 324, 483, 589, 690, 760, 763, 839, and 962.

According to the union, Oak Harbor has 35 terminals on the West Coast, providing services to a number of large companies including Gap Inc., Safeway Inc., Siemens Corp., and Georgia Pacific Corp.

By Susan R. Hobbs

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