Teamsters Local 231 still on strike at Bellingham Cold Storage

Members of Teamsters Local 231 were scheduled to meet today, July 12, with a federal mediator to work with Bellingham Cold Storage in hopes of reaching an agreement and ending the union’s unfair labor practice strike. (Brent Lindquist/Lynden Tribune)

Employees returned to work Thursday

BELLINGHAM — Teamsters Local 231 members employed at Bellingham Cold Storage returned to work on Thursday, July 15, following a 14-day unfair labor practice strike.

A Teamsters statement released Thursday specifies that “this decision was made largely to benefit the local community, which was seeing catastrophic impacts as a result of BCS management’s decision to attempt to operate with an unskilled strike replacement workforce. Many of the businesses that rely on BCS for product storage and handling are small local operations, including the local food bank, without the resources to withstand the massive service failures.”

Bellingham Cold Storage returned to the bargaining table with the union on July 12 with a federal mediator on hand. The union offered a proposal that addressed many items that were important to BCS, the union’s statement reads, and BCS returned with a counteroffer showing it was willing to continue negotiations.

“It is our sincere hope that with this good faith effort by the workers, Doug Thomas will be a ‘man of his word’ and follow through with his statements, and the Parties will be able to continue to bargain and compromise until an agreement is reached,” said Teamsters Local 231 Secretary-Treasurer Rich Ewing. “I would like to thank our members who held strong in solidarity on the picket lines for two weeks. You demonstrated incredible courage and strength, and now it is up to BCS management to do the right thing for you, your families, and this community.”

In a statement sent out on Wednesday, Thomas said BCS is pleased to have worked with the Teamsters to develop an orderly return-to-work plan allowing BCS workers to return to work beginning July 15.

“Both parties have worked diligently on the plan to ensure business operations will continue to run smoothly as we facilitate the transition,” Thomas said. “We are looking forward to having our valued employees back with the BCS family soon. Moving forward, we will continue to bargain in good faith to achieve an equitable and sustainable contract.”

Original story follows...

Full strike began July 1; federal mediation set for July 12

BELLINGHAM — Teamsters Local 231 members at Bellingham Cold Storage began striking in June following months of bargaining since November.

“In the first week of June, the company gave us a last best and final offer before the bargaining process had concluded, in our view,” said Rich Ewing, Teamsters Local 231 secretary-treasurer.

The issues stem from the entire economic package related to BCS workers, Ewing said, which includes healthcare costs, wages and pension contributions.

“There’s still work to do in all three of those areas, but there’s also some language on the table having to do with seniority and with the use of temporary employees that we still have to work through that they haven’t been willing to continue discussions on,” he said.

More than 100 workers voted unanimously to authorize a 30-hour unfair labor practice strike June 18.

Ewing said they “very carefully” chose this action to avoid impacting BCS customers.

“We did that in a very specific way,” Ewing said. “To send the message while having least impact on their customers.”

These customers include Rader Farms and Clark’s Berries out of Lynden, as well as Trident Seafoods out of Seattle and Nature’s Path from Canada. BCS also serves a wide variety of smaller operations.

BCS agreed to return to the bargaining table with a federal mediator after the 30-hour strike. That mediation is scheduled for July 12, and Ewing said this shows that BCS “dragged its feet” getting the date of the mediation nailed down in the first place.

“It became clear that they were trying to string us out through the busy season and really had no intentions of good faith,” Ewing said. “They could have met with us July 1 with the mediator and we believe we could have reached a deal. They know what the issues are and should be able to resolve them. Instead of bargaining with us, they forced us to hit the streets.”

The Teamsters Local 231 members are out on strike full-time as of July 1 unless they receive a contract they see as acceptable, Ewing said.

The company’s view

BCS president and CEO Doug Thomas said the package being offered by the company is commensurate with the previous contract and will be very beneficial to employees.

“We are very confident that those wage increases, our medical benefits which are incredible and our pension contribution increases are going to put our employees in a very favorable position,” he said.

Thomas disputes claims that the company is dragging its feet on meeting with the federal mediator, and he stressed that BCS would have liked to meet sooner, but they don’t get to set the dates the mediator is available.

“We have had this meeting scheduled with the Teamsters Union and the federal mediator since June 21,” Thomas said. “We agreed to meet with them on that day, and so the union and the balance of the media that has been kind of dog piling on this story, for them to suggest that we refuse to get together with the union is perplexing to us.”

Thomas said the mediator had two dates available: July 1 and July 12. Ewing mentioned that the company could have met with the union and mediator on July 1, but Thomas said BCS already has a meeting scheduled with a different union group and had to schedule the Teamsters Local 231 meeting for July 12.

“The Teamsters Union knew we had this meeting scheduled before they went on strike,” Thomas said.

He called the messages being spread by the union “misleading and disingenuous,” and he said the meeting is still scheduled and still valid.

“They act like we’re unwilling to come to the table,” Thomas said. “We’ll come to the table.”

One of the specific sticking points Thomas mentioned is the notion that BCS was moving to a new medical plan. Thomas said such a plan was brought up at a meeting at one point, but he stressed that BCS will not be moving its employees to a new plan.

“We’re going to keep them on the same incredible medical plan that we’ve always had,” he said.

In the meantime

The July 12 meeting is still on the books, and Ewing said he hopes an agreement can be reached at that point. He said that issues remain between the two entities, though they are not as far apart as when negotiations began.

Ewing said the company has brought on replacement workers to try to continue operations, though he said he believes they’re not doing so very successfully.

A post on the company’s website notes that it is using these workers to provide uninterrupted service to customers:

“This morning, BCS welcomed 40 new skilled replacement workers to assist with our continued operations and have more arriving in the coming days.  We greatly appreciate the hundreds of emails and calls of support that we continue to receive from our customers, suppliers, and the community. BCS also continues to respect our Teamster employees’ right to strike while we also respect their right to work if they so choose. BCS is now well situated to serve our valued customers indefinitely.”