Texaco Strike of 1984

OCAW 1-591 History Series; Segment 5
as researched by Douglas W. Erlandson

 

On February 23rd at 4pm, 230 members of the Texaco unit went on strike. From the outset of negotiations, the company maintained a hard bargaining posture. They refused to meet the "National Pattern" and each time the committee met with the company, more take-aways were put on the table. The company's position left the union wondering. Texaco had enough money to buy 'Getty' for $10,000,000,000 and seemed to have lots of money to sponsor the New York Metropolitan Opera plus sponsor an Indianapolis 500 race car, but held their hard line posture with the Union. Things looked bleak and eventually after a deadline by the union to start bargaining in good faith, the strike was called.

The assigned International Representative was Walter S. Von Wald. The committee was chaired by K. Thomas Montgomery. The other members were Gary Erlandson, Steve Anderson, Darrell Hudson and Vern Beirnes. Richard Latham was the Local’s Financial Secretary and Douglas Erlandson was the Local President.

24 hour pickets were set up at all the gates, personal fishing boats were used to picket the dock. Texaco continued to run the plant using staff and engineers. Additional personnel from other Texaco sites were flown in to help.

Because they continually added take-aways, such as: splitting operations and maintenance seniority, stopping the right to bid for jobs and included new language giving them the unlimited right to contract out, the union filed an unfair labor complaint with the NLRB, charging Texaco with ‘bargaining in bad faith’. Both parties used the local newspapers often to present their positions.

At the time of the strike, "Fluor Contractors Inc.", was building Texaco’s new Delayed Coking Unit. Initially the 400 Building Trades union workers stayed off the job. But after Texaco notified them that they would be replaced with the non-union contractor "Brown and Root", Mason Reiter asked his workers to cross the picket line. "We had to do it to preserve our jobs and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When the construction contract with Texaco was discussed, I was promised at the time my people would not have to cross any picket lines. I really feel we are being coerced by Texaco" Reiter said. At a meeting between both unions, OCAW consented to allow the Building Trades to continue the construction of the new Coker.

Although the strike was an expensive one, averaging an astounding $1000 a day, the Local’s Defense Fund was virtually unaffected. Donations poured in! General Chemical and Shell both assessed their monthly dues. Local 1-590 from Ferndale assessed their dues as well. Other donations came from District 1 staff, 1-369, 8-638, 1-5, 1-592, 1-6, 4-228 and 4-23. The Building Trades Union members donated out of pocket cash every Monday as they exited the plant on their way home. The Local also set up a well stocked ‘food bank’ for their members use that was funded largely by 1-369’s generous monthly contribution of $1400. Although times were tough, people got by and nobody crossed the picket line. And from the outset and all through the strike, the wives of the strikers were very much involved. Their support was immeasurable. Each shift they served hot food and beverages to the picketers. Truly, it was a team effort.

Because of recent events that had occurred, Texaco took the Union to court seeking an order that would set tighter policies on how picketers could conduct themselves. In one incident, a picketer "socked a truck driver in the face" because he wouldn't slow down while passing through the line. And in another incident, a young woman seeking employment as a nurse "zipped through the line" and picketers smashed out her taillight when she passed back through, again speeding. But the biggest item on Texaco's illegal activity list was their assertion that persons unknown illegally had damaged valves and steam traps on lines along West Marches Point Road. Texaco was offering a $5,000 reward for information that would lead to arrest and conviction.

Ultimately the judge denied the company’s request and ruled in the union’s favor. His only order was ‘both parties had to obey the law’. Texaco then complained to Sheriff Boynton that the picketing at the truck rack was blocking the road causing an unsafe condition for the public. Boynton agreed. His suggestion was that we let the trucks in, then hold them up by picketing them on the way out, a tactic that worked great for the union.

Local Texaco vender and distributor Del Reisner started forcing his two Teamster truck drivers, Rusty LeBar and Tom Parker to drive through the union’s truck rack picket line. Reisner or his son had been taking the wheel from them at a nearby restaurant parking lot, then they would drive through, get filled, drive back to the parking lot and trade drivers again. But he soon tired of it and ordered his drivers to cross the picket line. Because OCAW didn’t want to get the drivers fired, they were allowed to pass through. A short time later, in the middle of the night, a car wheel ended up flying through Reisner’s down town office’s window. (Strong suspicion remains that the two events are connected.)

The union continued to offer comprehensive counterproposals to the company but settlement seemed a long way off. In fact things were getting worse. On March 30th Texaco notified the retirees that they were going to stop paying their medical premiums, thereby drawing down the union’s reserve surplus. ‘What the company is doing speaks very poorly of their corporate morality’. ‘Texaco is dragging the retirees into the fight and using them as pawns’ Latham said.

OCAW now was picketing Texaco at their Harbor Island terminal as well as their Los Angeles Lube Plant. Latham said, ‘it is our intention to picket Texaco wherever they may be in the nation on a random basis’. The Lube Plant manager was surprised that local 1-591 had the resources to fly pickets in from Anacortes. When talking to Latham outside the plant gate he suggested that he be sure and visit Disneyland. Latham’s response was, ‘I thought I was already, aren’t you Goofy?’ Actually, Latham was the only member from Anacortes. The other OCAW pickets were from another nearby refinery and were just wearing 1-591 hats.

To keep the membership’s morale up and to keep public attention on the struggle, a rally was organized April 30th outside the main entrance of the refinery. It was well attended by many unions and sympathetic politicians. Live music was performed by the Musician’s Union. All local newspapers, major radio and television stations were in attendance. Then ‘Anacortes American’ editor Scott Gorman unabashedly supported the union’s position, as did many of the city’s local merchants, who made many generous donations of food and money to the picketers.

To help keep the pressure on Texaco and to ‘take a day off’ from the daily struggle, more than 30 union members and spouses went to a Seattle Mariners baseball game. (Texaco was a major sponsor at all Kingdome events.) Before the game, the union passed out fliers informing the public about the company’s hard line negotiations. Then during the game’s 7th inning stretch, the group held up a large anti-Texaco banner that had been smuggled in. If nothing else, it was good therapy for the members.

One day while cutting wood with his brother in-law for the picket line, Ron Robinson thought of a great gag idea to pull on the unsuspecting ‘rent-a-cop’ guards Texaco had hired to help secure the dock. They bagged up the leftover wood chips, tape recorded the sound of their chain saws and headed out for the marina. Under the cover of darkness, they quietly positioned Ron’s boat under Texaco’s dock and threw the wood chips in the water. Then they set speakers out on the boat’s deck, put in the ‘chain saw massacre’ tape and cranked the volume. This sent the guards into an immediate panic. Ron said he could hear them hollering over the radio, ‘They’re cutting down the dock! They’re cutting down the dock!

On May 4th, Local 1-591 took out an ad in the Seattle PI as well as the Skagit Valley Herald detailing to the public, Texaco's "take it or leave it" bargaining stance. The full page ad explained the union's "take-away" concerns and then asked the public for their help, hoping to convince Texaco to bargain in good faith. Its effectiveness was unclear.

At a July 12th meeting, the committee offered to sign the exact contract that Texaco had just recently put on the table at their Los Angles plant. This offer was rejected by PSP management. By now, more than 20 take-away's remained on the table, with promises of more coming from the company. Some of the contract gutting changes were: hiring in direct, multi-craft concept, 14 day layoff notice, 42 hour work week for operations and a 3 tiered premium structure for medical insurance. In addition, the company informed the union the contract expiration date was going to be set on the day the new agreement was signed and not the common national one.

Another big item to iron out with Texaco was what to do with the members who had been disciplined for improper picket line activities. Some of the members were indeed guilty, but several were not. Texaco insisted that everyone suspended, was suspended, no discussion. It was their brand of due process.

After five and a half months on the line, a tentative agreement was reached. The offer was excruciating for the union but it was obvious it was the best we were going to get from the company. At a huge July 20th meeting, with 184 members in attendance, the offer was accepted by a 59% yes vote. At the same meeting, the membership also voted to assess their dues $5 a month to pay the wages of the suspended members while they remained off work, serving out their suspensions. The Monday following the vote, everybody met in the parking lot and returned to work in unison.