A strike at Kent's Columbia Distributing appears to have been averted — for now, at least — thanks to “productive conversations with several of Columbia's key business partners.”
That's the description from Rick Hicks, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 174, which represents 360 drivers and warehouse workers at Columbia, one of the nation's largest beverage distributors.
A press release from the union last week described the strike as “looming,” claiming that Columbia “abruptly walked away from the bargaining table.”
The union, at the company's request, agreed to a one-year contract last February. When the two sides returned to negotiations this year, an impasse formed over various concessions, including higher employee payments for health insurance.
“We've done everything in our power to avoid a strike, while Columbia has done everything in its power to provoke one,” said Hicks on March 10.
A week later, the waters seem to have calmed considerably, thanks to possible mediation from Columbia's customer companies.
“None of Columbia's customers – the breweries, wineries, distilleries, stores, restaurants and bars – want a labor dispute because they would all lose significant business,” said Hicks. “We've decided to give them some time to weigh in with Columbia but our members will only wait so long.”
The union, so far, hasn't given an indication of how long “so long” might be, but for now, business at the Kent facility will continue. Meanwhile, the union has fired a public verbal salvo pressuring the employer at the bargaining table.
“We postponed action temporarily because we take seriously the impact a strike would have on local businesses – period,” said Hicks.