Strike at Northwest Trucking Company in Third Month

January 2, 2009: Teamsters drivers are in their third month of a bitter strike against Oak Harbor Freight Lines, a large regional freight carrier in the Northwest. The day after the strike began in September, the company cut health care to workers and retirees. Some have been forced to pay three times more to maintain coverage.

The company forced the strike by attempting to eliminate sick leave and seniority rights in contract talks last summer. Oak Harbor also sought to shift members from the Teamsters health plan to the company’s, which doesn’t cover retirees, and has attempted to permanently replace striking workers by hiring scabs from out of state.

In late November the NLRB decided to pursue several unfair labor practice charges the Teamsters brought against the company—ending the threat of permanent replacement.

Teamsters officials say Oak Harbor’s business is off by two-thirds as major customers, including REI, Urban Outfitters, and JCPenney, have dropped the company. Oak Harbor says 130 of the company’s 578 union workers are scabbing on the strike, but many of the scabs are casuals and office workers. Only 33 drivers in the Seattle area and Portland have crossed picket lines, according to Teamsters officials.

Union-Busting Bank

The strike has garnered much solidarity in the Northwest. Students and members of many other unions have rallied at actions spotlighting companies that contract with Oak Harbor, including the Gap and Nike.

Now national attention has been brought to KeyBank, which is providing a financial lifeline to Oak Harbor as it tries to crush the union. The bank is set to receive $2.5 billion from the taxpayer-funded bank bailout.

On December 10, International Human Rights Day, more than 150 supporters rallied at KeyBank as part of Jobs with Justice’s “peoples’ bailout” actions. A delegation of faith and community leaders tried to enter the bank to speak with management only to find it had closed 40 minutes early.

Oak Harbor is owned by brothers Ed and Dave Vander Pol. The brothers, recent recipients of the Portland Jobs with Justice Grinch of the Year Award, are members of the Tacoma Christian Reformed Community Church and have stated that the company “belongs to God.”

“The Vander Pols say that they are Christians,” said Doug Walls, who has driven truck for Oak Harbor for more than five years. “Why are they breaking all these labor laws, and leaving their workers out in the cold during the holidays? It’s heartbreaking what has happened here.”

by Andrea Townsend, Portland Jobs with Justice

Originally in Labor Notes magazine.

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