BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Some 110 forklift drivers, members of Teamsters Local 231, went on strike July 1 at the Bellingham Cold Storage and processing facility here near the Canadian border. The company forced the walkout by making an insulting “offer” to jack up workers’ health insurance costs.
“They said they want their workers to consider using the state health insurance,” and get off the company-contributed one altogether, Heather Ewing, Local 231 business representative, told the Militant on the picket line July 6.
Although the bosses have since modified their medical proposal, Local 231 says on its website that the bosses’ demands on pension and wage increases also “demonstrated a complete lack of respect.”
Strikers maintain round-the-clock pickets at two facilities, on Roeder Avenue and Orchard Street. We joined picketing at the larger location on Roeder, as strikers received a steady-stream of thumbs-up, waves and honks from big-rigs, cars and bicyclists.
“The company wanted us to go on strike to try to bust the union,” said Teamster Local Secretary-Treasurer Rich Ewing. But he pointed to the empty parking lot across the street that strikers say is normally full, and said, “They’re hurting.”
Bellingham Cold Storage claims to be “the largest private deep-water terminal and portside cold storage warehouse center on the West Coast.” It was taken over by Seattle-based Joshua Green Corp. three years ago. Since then workers report conditions have gotten worse. “It’s hard for them to keep people because of how they treat them,” said forklift driver Mike Moore.
One of the company’s biggest customers is Walmart, with its Great Value brand frozen fruit and smoothie mixes. Bellingham Cold Storage handles a lot of locally grown berries. They also service Costco, Trident Seafoods, Clark’s Berry Farm and others.
When striking workers at the Orchard Street picket learned three of us work at Walmart, they said that on the first day of the strike one of the Walmart truck drivers wouldn’t cross their picket line. “He called his dispatcher, was there for about 20 minutes, then left,” said striker John Damon.
The strikers were also interested that Williamson is the Socialist Workers Party candidate for City Council in Seattle. We told them we’ll work to build support for their strike in the Seattle area.
They’ve gotten solidarity on their picket lines from local berry union Familias Unidas por la Justicia (Families United for Justice) members and from workers at Whatcom County Community College, who helped make their picket signs.
Join the picket lines! Send messages of support and contributions to Teamsters Local 231, P.O. Box H, Bellingham, WA 98227.