BELLINGHAM — Some progress appears to have been made between Bellingham Cold Storage and its workers after a 30-hour strike took place over the weekend.
On Monday an attorney representing Bellingham Cold Storage told the union it is willing to come to the table to discuss a contract with a federal mediator, said Rich Ewing, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 231. He said in an email that they are currently working to set up meeting dates.
Doug Thomas, president of Bellingham Cold Storage, confirmed that the company is willing to meet and listen to the union’s proposal. He said they have not modified the “Last, Best and Final” offer that it presented earlier this month, noting that the union has not yet allowed workers to vote on that offer.
Bellingham Cold Storage “remains steadfast that we will take all necessary steps to ensure that our customer requirements are taken care of and that our operations continue without interruption just like occurred during the recent 30-hour strike,” Thomas said in an email to The Bellingham Herald. The business “is also committed to not locking out our valued employees in the event of a subsequent strike and instead will continue to provide full employment for any teamster employee who exercises their right to work and continue both their compensation and benefits.”
The new development comes after about 110 workers picketed the Bellingham facilities on June 18 and 19.
Ewing said that while agreeing to come back to the table is a necessary step, he was hesitant to say that it was an overly encouraging sign.
”The union will enter this process with the intent to continue good faith negotiations in an effort to reach an acceptable agreement. We can only hope that (Bellingham Cold Storage) will do the same,” Ewing said. “The Unfair Labor Practice strike action last Friday and Saturday clearly showed that the teamster employees at (Bellingham Cold Storage) are 100% unified in their quest for a fair contract.”
The union and the company have been working on a new contract since November, but the union staged the 30-hour strike after the company recently refused to negotiate further, Ewing said, adding that the last offer was unacceptable and there’s still work to be done in several areas, particularly health care benefits, wages and pension benefits.
Many of the workers involved in the strike are forklift operators and other skilled workers who are employed by Bellingham Cold Storage. No workers from any of Bellingham Cold Storage’s tenants are involved in the strike. The company is well-known for storing and processing a variety of food, including fish and local agriculture.