December 4th, 2008 5:33 pm | by Katie Gilbert News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, CLEAN UP

A Day In The Life of A Strike


Now in their 73rd day of striking, workers and retirees of Oak Harbor Freight Lines rallied today to protest what they call the "unfair labor practices" of their Auburn, Wash.-based employer.

The crowd of roughly 100 people outside Oak Harbor's Portland terminal late this afternoon included Teamsters Union leaders and employees either negotiating with Oak Harbor or directly affected by that negotiation's outcome. Also there were other groups, like the Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council and Jobs with Justice.

"History is full of stories like yours - of people suffering, digging in the dirt to beat bastards like these guys," said Al Hobart, head of negotiations for Teamsters. "We're gonna win this thing."

After the last speaker had addressed the rally from the bed of a turquoise pick-up truck holding a makeshift PA system, I stood around a glowing barrel fire with a few of the picketing Oak Harbor workers and retirees.

They explained what's keeping them out in the frosty late autumn wind. Ron Fuller, an Oak Harbor employee who's been at the Portland terminal picket site every day since Day One of the strike on Sept. 22, says all he's asking for is a contract that looks like the one that expired Oct. 31, 2007.

But he says Oak Harbor wants to replace the contract that expired last year with one that would do away with sick leave, nix the concept of seniority and move union employees from the Teamsters health plan to the company's own, which doesn't provide benefits for retirees.

That revision puts quite a strain on retirees like Marvin Deegan, 64. Deegan retired from Oak Harbor three years ago. Now that he's picking up his own health insurance tab, the bill has more than tripled, from $300 per month to $940. He's had to get a part-time job pumping gas to cover the leap.

Striking employees and their supporters were heartened last week by the National Labor Relations Board decision to issue a formal complaint and take Oak Harbor to trial on at least four unfair labor practice charges. But they still don't expect a resolution any time soon.

Oak Harbor spokesman Mike Hobby says that the company is negotiating in good faith, but says "unfortunately, since the strike began, we've received nothing but more demands."

He says about 20 percent of Oak Harbor's clients have opted to use other transportation companies' services because of the strike (Teamsters, on the other hand, estimates the customer base has shrunk 65 percent). JCPenney is the latest company to pull its business from Oak Harbor as a result of the strike.

On to Day 74.

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