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Thursday, September 18, 2003

Waiting For Lefty

For those of you who haven't heard, the company where I work during the day locked out 140 teamsters while I was on vacation two weeks ago as part of a contract dispute, and for the past four days we've been in a virtual lock-down situation at my office. Because we have union employees who work in our testing labs here, the local has the right to picket our premeses, and so we've been forced to park at an off-site location, then get bussed in; it's a pretty surreal situation, what with the butcher paper over the windows, the security guards riding along, the shouts from the picketers as we pass, the intermittent car honks of support. Not to mention the fact that we're virtually locked in here, sort of like the old closed campus high school I went to 25 years ago. Some wag even facetiously christened our bus, "The Shawshank Express".

I'm in a bit of a quandry over the situation. Normally, I'm a strong pro-labor supporter (seeing as I belong to an AFL-CIO affiliated union myself), although I don't personally have a problem crossing this particular picket line, since it's MY job I'm going to, and I'm not scabbing one of their's. But, at the same time I feel a bit of torn loyalty. Early on, when the company started putting together a contingency plan to deal with any possible work action on the part of the union, I made it clear to my boss that I would not feel comfortable crossing a union picket as a replacement worker at one of the struck plants, if it came down to that. Fortunately, my services were considered vital to holding down the fort here at HQ, so it turned out not to be an issue. And hearing things from management's perspective, I have to admit that I think overall they've been very fair and upfront with the union during the contract negotiations, with the result being that the employees at three other plants ratified our contract proposal by overwhelming majorities. IBT Local 66, the union in question, however, seems to feel they can leverage a better wage/benefit package than what we offered, and now it looks like both sides are going to get into a pissing match to see who can get the other to flinch first. Regardless of the outcome, it's a lose-lose for everybody; for our producer/owners who are suffering from oversupply in the market and the lowest raw milk prices in 25 years; the union members who now probably won't get as good a deal as we originally offered them; management, which is pushing staff to the limit to try to keep the plants operating; and the rest of the employees who are having to deal with the negative publicity, emotional and psychological stress of being virtual captives in our own office. And there doesn't seem to be any imminent end to the situation.

So, it was a little nerve-wracking sitting in at the King County Labor Council meeting last night (I'm a delegate), and listening to the whooping and shouting when they announced that local 66 has joined the Council as an affiliate member. It gave me a very strong appreciation for the old adage, "there are always two sides to the story", as I'm sure most of the people in the room only know the union's side, and I couldn't help but wonder if they would have been quite so knee-jerkingly enthusiastic had they heard the other point-of-view. They see it as just another of the many recent anti-labor moves made by Big Business, which is a pretty simplistic way of looking at this particular situation, and are pretty much accepting the union's version of events at face-value, without probing any deeper into why the lockout occured in the first place.

And I just had to sit there and try not to let on that essentially, they had one of "the bad guys" in their midst, even though I don't consider myself one of the enemy, although they probably would.

Kind of crazy, no?

Posted byCOMTE on 11:50 AM

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