Truck drivers from Oak Harbor Freight Lines go on strike
By MARK KLAAS
Auburn Reporter Regional Editor
September 23, 2008 · Updated 10:00 AM
Suddenly out of work, one truck driver for Oak Harbor Freight Lines is bracing for the long haul.
"I have a couple of checks put away," the man said while clutching a strike sign and walking the picket line along West Valley Highway in Auburn on a brisk Tuesday morning. "I'm as prepared as I can be."
Teamsters from the Auburn-based trucking company officially went on strike Monday night at 8. The drivers joined a visible protest along the highway, with drivers walking in front of company headquarters.
Sign-carrying drivers also positioned themselves along the highway north of the headquarters, drawing occasional horns from passing trucks and cars.
Similarly, truckers at the company's Everett and Portland facilities also walked out.
In all, about 620 drivers from Washington, Oregon and Idaho are on strike over what the Teamsters describe as the company's unfair labor practices in negotiating a new deal. The Teamsters' labor contract expired last Oct. 31, and negotiations have failed to resolve disagreements about the company's proposed health-care plan nearly a year later, according to both sides.
The union filed charges of unfair-labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board.
Company spokesman Mike Hobby said those chargers are unfounded.
The company presented its last and final offer to the union on Monday. The company has offered to meet with the union again Wednesday; however, that gathering has not been confirmed.
Al Hobart, Teamster vice president and Joint Council 28 president, says the strike has everything to do with unfair, "unlawful" labor negotiations and less to do with the contract itself.
"That's the key," he said, "and they need to cease and desist.
"It's not about the contract at this point," Hobart said. "It's about the actions of the company is taking to intimidate workers ... They're being overly aggressive. They are stepping across the line."
Hobart said the union is ready for a long and possibly, ugly strike.
"Hopefully not, but we are prepared for it," he said. "Believe me, this decision (to strike) wasn't made lightly."
According to Hobby, Oak Harbor plans to hire replacements "as needed" to keep its freight line moving.
"We're committed to our customers," Hobby said.
Hobby said while there will be some disruption to deliveries this week, the company intends to soon keep the line moving normally.
Hobby said union and non-union workers can keep abreast of information by visiting the company's question-and-answer online outlet at www.oakhanswers.com.
Oak Harbor Freight Lines, one of the largest and most profitable trucking companies in the Northwest, pulled in $117 million last year, according to Teamsters Local 81.
In the meantime, the union has been upset about the company's health-care proposals, described as "substandard," according to spokesman Bill McCarthy on the Teamsters' Web site. Teamsters also are objecting to previous proposals to reduce retirement benefits, eliminate paid sick leave, deny pay raises to some employees and replace office workers with subcontractors.
In July, on the Oak Harbor Teamsters Web site, Hobart said, "If Oak Harbor gets their way, our retirees – the ones who built this company – will be orphaned with no health insurance. We cannot allow that to happen."
One picketing driver who has been with the company for 19 years just shook his head over the current plight.
"Unbelievable," he said. "Just unbelievable."Contact Auburn Reporter Regional Editor Mark Klaas at email@example.com or 1-253-833-0218 (ext 5050).