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Strike continues as sides try to settle labor dispute at Oak Harbor Freight Lines

Members of Teamsters Local 763, including Lorelei Reeff, right, Doug Gorton and Nicky Kilgore, picket in front of Oak Harbor Freight Lines corporate headquarters. - Gary Kissel/Reporter
Members of Teamsters Local 763, including Lorelei Reeff, right, Doug Gorton and Nicky Kilgore, picket in front of Oak Harbor Freight Lines corporate headquarters.
— image credit: Gary Kissel/Reporter

The lengthy strike between Teamsters and the Oak Harbor Freight Lines Inc. continues, but a settlement could be coming soon.

So say cautiously optimistic sides to the labor dispute that has kept union workers sidelined since they walked off the job Sept. 22.

Officials remain guarded but admit there is some promise that a deal can be reached between union workers and the Auburn-based, family-owned trucking business.

"We're hopeful for a settlement," said Rich Ahearn, regional director for the National Labor Relations Board. "We're still in the process of attempting to reach a settlement agreement on the unfair labor practices, on which we already made a decision ... and still we have not made some decisions on new unfair labor charges."

Until there is a final resolution to the strike, Ahearn said the board wasn't in a position to comment further on the case. The board anticipates new developments soon, and perhaps a ruling could come as quickly as next week, Ahearn said.

The union struck over the company's alleged unfair labor practices, charging it is trying to bust up the union. The company, however, 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. The dispute includes a possible end to health care benefits to retired employees and the likely reduction or elimination of paid sick leave, Teamsters said.

According to Al Hobart, vice president of the western region of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the labor board ruled that the union’s initial charges against the company of unfair labor practices have merit, and that the strike by the Teamsters is an unfair labor practice strike.

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.

When reached Friday, Hobart said "there was no good news" to report, adding the ball was in the company's court.

Meanwhile, a federal mediator is trying to bring both sides to the table.

Mike Hobby, a company spokesman, said Oak Harbor has offered some dates to meet, but those days have not worked out for the Teamsters.

Hobby said the company is fully operational despite the flood-ravished region that has seen major routes closed.

Meanwhile, for more than three months, replacement drivers have left the picketed fleet yards in company trucks, following familiar routes to deliver the goods for the company.

The strike has affected hundreds of workers. About 40 percent of the company's workforce – from drivers to mechanics – walked off the job in September.

The striking workers staff 10 of the company's terminals in Washington state, including a single terminal in Boise and the four unionized terminals in Oregon.

Oak Harbor Freight Lines is run by David and Edward Vander Pol, co-presidents, who followed their father, Henry, himself one of three brothers who bought the company in 1936.

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