The Case of the Gap and the Oak Harbor Strike

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In a recent strike, over 600
workers from Oak Harbor
Freight Lines (O.H.) have
taken the legal and moral
principle of corporate
social responsibility to a
new level. They have
taken their case to Oak
Harbor’s major clients, demanding that these
companies put pressure on O.H. to stop
harassing its workers and start negotiating
with them in good faith. Several companies,
including Recreational Equipment, Inc.
(REI) and Urban Outfitters, have suspended
their business with Oak Harbor until a fair
contract is signed.
The Gap Inc., which also owns Banana
Republic, Piperlime, and Old Navy, however,
has refused to place any pressure on the
company and continues to transport its merchandise
through Oak Harbor. Several organizations,
including, the International Textile,
Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation
and Students & Scholars Against Corporate
Misbehavior, have called on Gap to
suspend its relationship with Oak Harbor.
But Gap argues that it bears no responsibility
in labor-management disputes of its subcontractors
and that it has not been in collusion
with O.H., despite the fact that the company’s
proposed contract included a
special“GAP” rule that would deny overtime
pay for weekend work on GAP business.
The Teamsters’ labor contract with
O.H. expired on Oct. 31, 2007 and negotiations
failed to resolve disagreements
over the company’s proposed contract,
the most significant part of it being the
company’s health insurance plan which,
according to the union, would raise
many retirees’ premiums between $400
and $700 per month. The strike (the first
in the company’s 92 years of operation)
started on Sept. 22, 2008. Teamsters and
warehouse and office workers have been
picketing at the facilities in Washington,
Oregon, Idaho, California, and Nevada.
Al Hobart, Teamster vice-president and
Joint Council 28 president, however, insists
that“the strike has everything to do with
unfair, ‘unlawful’ labor negotiations and
less to do with the contract itself… it’s
about the actions of the company to intimidate
workers… They’re being overly
aggressive.” He adds that,“Believe me, this
decision (to strike) wasn’t made lightly.”
The union alleges that the company representatives
had contacted and intimidated
individual workers during the negotiations
and has filed charges of unfair-labor practices
with the National Labor Relations
Board. Company spokesman, Mike Hobby,
contends that those charges are unfounded.
Yet the company immediately cut off
health care benefits to its unionized workers
and its retirees. It hired strike-breaking security
firm, Modern Staffing and Security, and
Seattle’s leading union avoidance law firm
Davis Grimm Payne and Marra. The picketers
have been assaulted with flying objects,
verbally abused by company officials, and at
least three individuals have been hit and
injured by vehicles driven by the company’s
new employees and private security agents.
As during any economic downturn,
many businesses have been manipulating
the current financial crisis to deepen the rift
among the working people and crush the
unions’ struggle to achieve economic security
and work place democracy. We need to
support the unions, and remember that
their victory, after all, is ultimately all working
people’s victory against corporate greed.
After all, it was the unrelenting struggle of
workers to create trade unions that“brought
us the weekend” and the eight-hour work
day, which, by the way, have been quickly
vanishing before our eyes.
Let’s tell the Gap Inc. to demand fair
labor practices from Oak Harbor. It wouldn’t
hurt to remind them that we can always
buy our hip clothes someplace else.

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