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Tempers grow as Teamsters' strike against Oak Harbor Freight Lines continues

Striking Teamsters look on as a replacement driver exits the Oak Harbor Freight Lines
Striking Teamsters look on as a replacement driver exits the Oak Harbor Freight Lines' yard off 37th Street Northwest on Thursday. Police units arrived on the scene to keep the roadway open to truckers.
— image credit: Shawn Skager/Reporter

Frustration and emotions run high in the Teamsters' ongoing strike with Oak Harbor Freight Lines.

Auburn police intervened as picketers paced and circled in front of the gate leading to the Auburn-based freight liner's yard off 37th Street Northwest. Police were dispatched early Thursday afternoon to keep the peace and the public access way open as replacement drivers continued to enter and leave the transport company's premises.

No arrests were made.

Teamsters from the trucking firm have been on strike since Sept. 22. Both sides have not met since the walkout began and no negotiations have been scheduled, according to company spokesman Mike Hobby.

According to the unions, 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.

Hobby said those chargers are unfounded.

The Teamsters also contend company representatives are misleading their customers that the strike is over.

"It is not," said Al Hobart, Teamster vice president and Joint Council 28 president, in a statement released Thursday. "Oak Harbor employees walked off the job ... in response to hostile efforts by company representatives to bully and intimidate walkers, which are unfair labor practices in violation of federal law."

Sign-carrying Teamsters have been active and vocal along the picket lines ever since. At times, the exchanges between strikers and replacement drivers have been heated at points along the West Valley Highway, where the company's headquarters and truck yard are kept.

Some replacement drivers say they have been harassed repeatedly.

"It didn't warrant anyone spitting on me," said James Pennington, a replacement driver who had his window rolled down during the incident with a striker. "It was ugly, it was crazy. I mean, why would you have these type of people working for you?

"They're doing it to themelves. Why can't it be peaceful?"

In Pasco, a Teamster business agent was hit Thursday by a replacement trucker as she was picketing.

Eydie Dean, a business agent for Local 117 in Tukwila, was struck as the driver pulled into the company's facility.

Dean said she was unhurt, but shaken. Police charged the driver with assault.

In Auburn, police occasionally have patrolled and sat in nearby parking lots to monitor the situation.

Hobby said the company acknowledges there are problems along the lines and will investigate any such incidents and respond with corrective action.

Hobby said Oak Harbor immediately hired replacements "as needed" to keep its freight line moving. Since then, the company has further filled vacancies with those who crossed the picket line and those coming from non-union facilities.

"We're committed to our customers," Hobby said.

Hobby said while while there were some disruptions to deliveries last week, it has been business as normal.

"The Auburn Police Department has been stellar in all this," Hobby added. "They have done an exceptional job in being impartial and doing what they have to do."

On the roadways, Teamsters remain concerned about the safety, quality and practices of replacement drivers.

"Our guys have actually videotaped safety violations and the safety issues are immense,” said Tom Strickland, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 81 in Portland. “You see people driving with the back doors open, swerving into traffic, blocking traffic.”

Readers' note: Union and non-union workers can keep abreast of information by visiting the company's question-and-answer online outlet at www.oakhanswers.com.

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