Oak Harbor, Teamsters Wage the Public Sympathy Battle


Two months ago, Teamster truckers (and other represented employees) working for Auburn-based Oak Harbor Freight Lines walked off the job, demanding better a better health-care package. That same day, Oak Harbor started hiring replacements--known to organized labor as scabs. It's a scene that brings to mind the movie Reds (but without the hot Diane Keaton/Warren Beatty sex) or Newsies (but without the cute outfits and great songs).

But even sans steamy love scenes and adorable hats, both sides are launching a PR war for public and legal sympathy. The Teamsters fired the first shot Oct. 2, putting out a press release saying one of the replacements intentionally hit picketer Eydie Dean with a truck. The press release quotes her describing the incident: "I was standing on the picket line with my sign way up high and the

driver could see it. He pulled forward and I said stop and he

just laughed and kept going, pushing me about three feet." Dean escaped unscathed.

But two can play at that game. On Nov. 7, Oak Harbor Freight Lines took the unions to court, saying strikers were chasing replacement drivers in a red jeep, banging on their trucks and on Nov. 5, one striker told a driver he would sodomize his kids. In the suit, Oak Harbor is careful to state they aren't asking the court to stop the strike, only to intervene in so far as it's creating a dangerous situation for the replacements.

While both sides trade accusations of violence, the strikers have garnered support from local activist groups, including the Church Council of Greater Seattle and the International Labor Rights Forum. This morning, the Forum released a 23-page report arguing that Oak Harbor "engaged in violations of international labor rights standards as defined by the International Labor Organization" by hiring replacements that are acting more like permanent employees, undermining the strikers.

With the holidays coming up and cross country commerce more important than ever, I wouldn't expect this fight to cool off any time soon.

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