Absence of Oak Harbor Freight Lines strikers prompts question — is it over?

Could a nasty strike between hundreds of union workers at Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. and the Auburn-based company be headed toward a settlement?

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that the union’s initial charges of unfair labor practices by the company have merit and that the strike by the Teamsters is an unfair labor practice strike, Al Hobart, vice president of the western region of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said in a message posted on the Teamster's Web site this week.

The Western Region represents all the striking workers through 12 locals.

Company and union representatives were unavailable for comment Friday. Both offices were closed in observance of the holiday.

Picketing union workers began to disperse and vacate their regular strike posts late Thursday along the company’s headquarters and shipping yard entrances on West Valley Highway and on 37th Street Northwest. Those spots remained empty Friday.

According to Hobart’s message, the family-owned trucking business had until the close of business Dec. 31 to agree to a settlement or the National Labor Relations Board would issue a complaint against Oak Harbor Freight Lines and take the case to trial.

The board had not yet ruled on charges regarding surface bargaining filed by the union, but it is expected to do so in the near future, Hobart said in his statement. A federal mediator is trying to schedule a meeting between the parties.

Hobart said if the rulings favor the union, the company will have to rehire the striking workers, whom it has replaced with workers through Modern Staffing & Security Consultants Inc., of Sarasota, Fla.

The strike began Sept. 22, when 40 percent of the employees – drivers, dock workers, office workers and mechanics – walked off the job. Since then, many employees have returned to work, according to a company spokesman.

The strike has affected those workers staffed in the company's 10 Washington state terminals, its single terminal in Boise and the four unionized terminals in Oregon, where the company maintains a total of eight terminals.

For more than three months, replacement drivers have left the spacious fleet yard in company trucks, following familiar routes to deliver the goods for Oak Harbor Freight Lines.

At the core of the strike is the Teamsters’ allegation that the company is conducting unfair labor practices in a bid to bust up the union. The company says that claim is unfounded.

The company and the union have been negotiating a new contract since mid-2007, which would have replaced the old pact that expired on Oct. 31, 2007. Among other issues, the parties disagree over the proposed company-run medical benefits.

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