Stand for Something or Work for Nothing!
On June 1st, 1995 14 OCAW Local 1-591 members lost their jobs when Texaco awarded their Coke handling bid to Western
Plant Services Inc., a subsidiary of Hallbuck Marine, a vehemently anti-union company from Burnside, Louisiana.
Western Plant Services Inc. immediately began illegally discriminating against the former employees of Alpha-Omega
because of their union membership. WPSI made no secret of their anti-union bias. They repeatedly announced, "we're a
non-union company and we intend to stay that way." Their scheme was to hire less than a majority of the previous
contractor's employees in hopes of avoiding the union shop status. The union then filed charges with the NLRB and made
"Stand For Something or Work For Nothing" their strike theme. Right from the start, Texaco, expecting labor problems
between OCAW and WPSI, claimed their neutrality in the dispute and stated WPSI replaced the previous contractor,
Alpha-Omega, because they were the low bidders.
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.
Even though WPSI was cutting pay by 30% and reducing benefits, OCAW International Representative Tom Lind encouraged
everyone to apply for work with the new contractor hoping to save the union shop, while keeping our members working.
But, as the union anticipated, Tim Erickson the new site manager and Buster Smelly (TIMEOUT: yes that's his name) the
Regional Manager for WPSI, offered jobs to only 6 of the previous contractor's employees, hoping this would get rid of
the union. OCAW claimed discrimination and put up a picket line.
Sadly, some OCAW members took jobs with WPSI and went to work as "working foremen". The union tried to reason with
them. If they stayed out with their brothers, WPSI would be left shorthanded in the skilled positions, which might
force them to recognize the union and bargain. Or Texaco might be compelled to rescind WPSI's contract if they were
unable to fulfill their obligation. Yet, they crossed, some taunting as they did. The rest of WPSI's new work force
was made up of scabs flown in from Louisiana. As might be expected, there were many unfriendly moments when they
crossed through their former work mates' picket line.
Because of recent eThe
group's Unit Chair was Les Brown. Bill Gillette was the unit's Recording Secretary. Rob Nickerson and Mardy Bragg
volunteered to serve as co-picket captains. 24 hour pickets were established across Texaco's gate 6 using campers and
vans as their picket headquarters.
Knowing they would need help with legal council, the union hired Schwerin, Burns, Campbell and French, a labor law
firm out of Seattle who then assigned Liz Ford to the case. Discrimination charges were filed with the NLRB. After
reviewing the case, the NLRB issued a scathing review of WPSI and scheduled the case to be heard by an administrative
law judge. The bitter confrontation between the two parties began escalating.Because the group was small, the
local was able to set picket pay at $100 a week. And because they were now unemployed due to illegal discrimination,
they all qualified for and received full unemployment benefits from the State of Washington. If one did the math, the
scabs were crossing for chump change.
On June 6th, OCAW 1-591 picketers Larry White and Unit Chair Les Brown picketed the train headed to Texaco's Delayed
Coking unit to haul petroleum coke. Burlington Northern Railroad conductor, Don Kirkwood, refusing to cross through
OCAW's picket line, stopped the train. Texaco called county Sheriff Ed Goodman, hoping to get the train rolling again.
Because Les and Larry were on public property, there was nothing the Sheriff's department could do, so the picketing
continued. With the help of the other unit members, picketing stopped the train for a 24 hour period. Obviously this
event made front page news with the local newspapers. Only after a plea from the plant manager of Tecnal, (another
March Point company) did OCAW agree to take down the pickets. OCAW had made it's point. They weren't going to go away
Because of tight time constraints, the union knew WPSI couldn't have properly trained their employees as required by
Process Safety Management laws. The union warned the surrounding, nearby community they could be in danger because
Texaco had allowed unqualified and untrained people on site to perform the potentially hazardous job of drilling,
cutting and handling petroleum coke. The union then formally filed their safety concerns with the State Attorney
General's office and with the Department of Labor and Industries. After three separate investigations, the Dept. of
L&I found 27 violations and levied $23,340 in fines against Texaco, Hallbuck Marine and WPSI. Texaco was fined $7,740
with WPSI and HBM being fined $15,600 each. The Attorney General's office categorized the violations as "serious"
which indicates substantial probability existed that death or serious harm could result from using the untrained,
replacement work force. As expected, all companies filed appeals
Support started to come in almost immediately from others unions and civilians. Early financial support came from IBEW
77, IBEW 191, UFCW 44 and the Central Labor Council. OCAW International sent a $5000 contribution from their
"Emergency Fund" and agreed to pay half of the local's legal bills.Because labor disputes are costly, each
unit group of the local took a secret ballot vote to assess themselves an extra hours pay, per month, for 8 months to
help the Local's Defense Fund remain intact. Each unit group passed the strike dues assessment vote except the Shell
unit. A number of Shell members were upset that the union hall had recently been remodeled and the project had been
financed with a loan from the Local's Defense Fund. The Shell group then held another vote, proposing to assess their
dues an extra $5 a month. Ashamedly, this too failed. This didn't go well with the other unit group's who did vote to
assess themselves. Local leaders wondered how they could ask other unions for help, when some of their own brothers
Although there was a picket line in place across gate 7 during load outs, the Teamster's Union, Local 231 out of
Bellingham drove through. Their Business Representative, Chuck Eggert wanted his drivers to drive through irrespective
of the picket line. He claimed if they honored the line, Texaco would transfer the hauling job to a non-union trucking
outfit and losing their jobs would do nothing to assist the efforts of OCAW. The Teamster's then asked if they could
help in some other way. Because labor disputes get expensive, OCAW suggested they could send financial help. None was
ever received, not even during the Christmas Adopt-A-Family drive. Occasionally some of the drivers made an
out-of-pocket donation but nothing official from Eggert's organization.
By now WPSI was able to hire enough local people to fill their work force needs, so they flew the imported scabs from
Louisiana home. But because of the poor work environment and the low pay, their work force was constantly revolving. A
new scab a week it seemed.
To keep the fight in the public eye and help keep the membership's morale up, a rally was planned. The event
wasorganized and directed by the social activist group, "Jobs With Justice".
The 350+ group then marched up the west sidewalk of Commercial Avenue, carrying hundreds of hand made signs decrying
the injustice caused by Hallbuck Marine, WPSI and Texaco. The boisterous marchers continued up Commercial Avenue
stretching out over three city blocks. The route then turned at 32nd street, down on to "R" Avenue and ended at the
city park on 23rd & "R". There, keynote speaker Dean Alexander, Assistant to the International President, addressed
the crowd. At the end of his address he presented OCAW 1-591 with another $5000 check from the International's
"Emergency Fund." A collection was taken up for the strikers as well. By all accounts, the event was a total success.
After being locked-out for 4 months, the group qualified to use the International's Adopt-A-Family program. Financial
Secretary Erlandson solicited the OCAW locals of District 1 as well as contacting many union's throughout Washington
State. Past President Jim Bergeson flew at his own expense to an out of state District 1 Council meeting to help
encourage contributions. The response to his presentation was well received.Because the former Alpha-Omega
brothers were the only OCAW members, nationwide, involved in a labor dispute, they received all contributions to the
International's Adopt-A-Family program. Over $29,000 was received over the course of the lock-out due to contributions
and donations from many, many unions all across America. OCAW 1-5 generously pledged $500 monthly to the support of
Tom Handy who had lost his unemployment benefits because of health problems. Heart felt, hand written "thank you"
letters were sent to the contributing unions from the receiving families. This program epitomizes the spirit of
In Burlington, Washington the discrimination case was heard before Administrative Law Judge William Schmidt. Both the
NLRB and the Union were seeking justice against WPSI. Dan Sanders represented the NLRB and Liz Ford represented OCAW.
Lester Smith was the council for the defendant, WPSI. Judge Schmidt heard two days of compelling testimony from the
charging parties. The union left the hearing feeling very confident. All three attorneys informed the court they would
file written briefs. Lester Smith didn't have much of a case and his brief showed it. The brief submitted by Sanders
on behalf of the NLRB was well done and made many strong points. Liz Ford's brief was nothing short of awesome! She
methodically, point after point, proved the union's case. She buried WPSI with it.
Even though there was very little extra curricular activity at the picket line, WPSI took the union to County court
seeking an injunction. At the time, the scabs passing through were being held up only briefly, but after the Judge
heard the case, that changed! He ruled the picketers could "only" stop the cars passing through for one minute. The
net effect was a step backward for WPSI. And with picketing the gate 7 traffic for one minute each way, the load out
time was substantially increased. The OCAW guys then put up a tongue-in-cheek scoreboard, OCAW "3"- WPSI "0". Over the
course of the dispute, the scoreboard was updated as the union continued to win on various issues. Last I saw it the
score was 85 to 1 in favor of OCAW. (Although some argue their 1 point was a gift).
Since the 1980's, during the Christmas holiday season, Texaco and OCAW would put aside any differences they may have
had between themselves and would jointly work together on an Adopt-A-Family project helping the less fortunate
children and families have a nicer Christmas. This year with our own members in need and since Texaco was not
involved, the union proposed the Alpha-Omega group be adopted. Texaco graciously declined. For the first time in many
years, the joint Adopt-A-Family project was carried out separately.
The union then launched an aggressive fund raising campaign, taking up collections at every opportunity. Many
letters were written to other unions explaining the situation, asking for contributions. And the response was way over what anyone
could have dreamt. Including gifts, toys and cash, more than $5000 was raised. One anonymous donor gave an extremely generous cash
donation of $1000! Texaco member Pat Curly bought turkeys for every family. With money in hand, a team of shoppers went out shopping
and gift wrapping. Charlie Messer then became Santa Claus, wearing the Santa outfit made by Donna Erlandson. Tom Montgomery served
as Santa's #1 Elf. Using Tom's '65 Mustang with the convertible top down, they home delivered Santa's payload to the locked-out
On May 10th 1996, Judge Schmidt issued his ruling. He agreed with the union stating WPSI had engaged in certain unfair
labor practices. His award ordered WPSI to retroactively restore the preexisting terms and conditions of employment,
including wage rates, hours of work, holidays, vacations, health and welfare coverage and pensions, with back wages
plus 12% interest. They were also responsible for all medical bills incurred during the lock-out. Judge Schmidt
specifically noted he "discounted the great bulk of Tim Erickson's testimony because it conflicted with the truth."
Schmidt noted he "found Erickson's demeanor as a witness utterly unconvincing."
After Judge Schmidt's ruling, the NLRB filed for a 10j injunction on the union's behalf before Administrative Law
Judge John Coughenour. If WPSI was going to appeal, the NLRB wanted the union members back working while the appeal
process took its course. After hearing testimony and reviewing the case, he ruled there was sufficient evidence
supporting the NLRB's complaint. Judge Coughenor noted the union was likely to succeed on the merits of their case and
ordered WPSI to offer employment within 5 days, with the same terms and conditions that existed under the previous
contractor as was ordered by Judge Schmidt. On June 18th, 1996 the locked-out work force was back to work. WPSI never
appealed Judge Schmidt's ruling.
Due to Judge Coughenor's favorable 10j injunctive ruling, the entire crew, minus Bill Gillette who had recently quit,
was back to work again. This caused WPSI to layoff most of the scab workers they had hired. The ones that remained,
received an immediate pay raise because of the union contract that was now back in force.At their yearly
constitutional convention, the Washington State Labor Council presented OCAW 1-591 with their most prestigious honor,
"The 1996 Mother Jones Award." WSLC President Rick Bender noted the locked-out members were an inspiration to union
members everywhere. On hand to receive the award for OCAW was Unit Chair Les Brown, Local President George Welch and
Vice-President Kim Nibarger.Representative Lind now had the job of negotiating a new contract with WPSI. As
long as negotiations remained uncompleted, the terms of the existing contract remained in place. Lester Smith, WPSI's
attorney, had a hard time getting Lind to the bargaining table. Tom was busy with the other Local's he represented
and, what with other out of state plans, there just wasn't enough time.Eventually WPSI pinned Lind down and
WPSI did what everyone knew they would do. They purposely made poor, unacceptable offers designed for rejection hoping
to force an impasse so they could implement their "last, best, final offer." This meant working for $9 an hour. Then
WPSI's ever genius manager Tim Erickson wrote in the daily order book he was setting everyone's pay at $10 an hour.
What Erickson didn't realize was this helped the union because it proved their $9 offer was not their "last, best,
final offer." The union then filed still another board complaint, charging WPSI with bargaining in bad faith. The
union prevailed on this point as well. WPSI was ordered to reinstate the original court ordered wage rates and make up
the back pay difference retroactively.At talks between representatives for WPSI and OCAW, a two year contract
was finally agreed to as well as reaching a compromised, reduced settlement on the financial awards that were due the
union and all other hourly employees of WPSI. The negotiated settlement totaled nearly $500,000. On September 25th
1997, the long awaited settlement checks arrived ending OCAW 1-591's longest labor dispute. The fight for justice was
expensive, costing the OCAW International and Local 1-591 more than $200,000 collectively.