BNA Daily Labor Report: Teamsters Strike Over Unfair Labor Practices at Oak Harbor

September 30, 2008: Truck drivers represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters began a strike against Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc., an Auburn, Wash.-based trucking company, claiming the company had engaged in unfair labor practices, the union announced Sept. 23.

Approximately 630 workers in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho walked off the job Sept. 22, Teamsters Western Region Vice President Al Hobart told BNA Sept. 24.

The union had been in collective bargaining negotiations sporadically with Oak Harbor since August 2007, at times with the assistance of a federal mediator, to replace a contract that expired Oct. 31, 2007.

Hobart emphasized that the workers are on strike because of unfair labor practices, not a failure to reach a contract agreement.

On July 25, Sept. 9, and Sept. 18, the union filed charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board Region 19 in Seattle. The Teamsters 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.

The union also claimed that the company has made unilateral changes to the working conditions of bargaining unit employees, such as changes in the procedure employees use to bid work, without first negotiating the changes with the union.

Richard Ahearn, regional director for NLRB Region 19, Sept. 29 told BNA that the agency is investigating the Teamsters' claims and could not yet comment on their merit.

Divergent Contract Goals

Hobart told BNA Sept. 29 that after negotiations broke off July 28, Oak Harbor said it would give the union its "last, best, and final offer," which Hobart said the union received Sept. 22 and found to be unacceptable. "The employer is trying to bust the union by insisting on issues we can't agree to," he told BNA.

During bargaining, the Teamsters had sought to maintain health care and retiree benefits and increase wages somewhat, Hobart said. Oak Harbor, however, "wanted to gut the contract" by eliminating health benefits, pensions, retiree health and welfare, seniority rights, and the grievance procedure, he said.

IBT has had a contract for decades with the family-owned business, and the contract was "a good one with fair wages and benefits," according to Hobart. In the past eight years, however, the company's relationship with workers has become "anti-worker," he said.

In a statement, Hobart said "the last thing we want is a strike. We understand that service disruptions during the peak shipping season and the holiday rush hurt everyone. Oak Harbor's owners just have not left us with any alternative. The company seems to be more interested in violating the law than protecting the interests of its customers."

According to the union, Oak Harbor employs about 1,000 workers and 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.

Hobart said that the union hopes the strike will resolve quickly, but estimated that it could take a few weeks, and it already has begun to affect California workers who are not receiving enough shipments.

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.

Attorney John M. Payne of Davis Grimm Payne and Marra of Seattle, who represents Oak Harbor, declined to comment. Company spokesman Mike Hobby was not available for comment.

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