For the past month, a group of fuel supply workers in Unalaska have been trying to unionize. And they’ve also accused their employer, Delta Western, of mistreating them for it.
The workers took to the picket line on Tuesday to protest with other local union members.
Leo Dacio is a driver for Delta Western, and a spokesman for the pro-union workers.
He alleges that the company cut off their access to some facilities after they walked off the job the first time, in February.
“They changed the locks on the break room and on the shop, and at the shop — that’s where we wash our clothes, our work clothes. And that’s the only shower,” Dacio said.
The only emergency shower, to wash off chemicals in a hurry. The washing machines are there so employees don’t have to worry about getting toxic or flammable substances in their machines at home.
Dacio alleges that the only people who lost access to those facilities were the workers who wanted to join the Inlandboatmen’s Union. He says they didn’t get new keys again until Friday — and they only got them then because they asked their manager.
“They did have some issues with the lock and they changed it,” Kirk Payne, the president of Delta Western, said. “But this facility is open [from] 7 in the morning to 7 p.m. every day, to where you don’t need a key. And when somebody needed access or needed a key, they were given it.”
In the last month, Payne and the president of Delta Western’s parent company have both visited the island to talk with their employees. Brian Bogen is the head of North Star Petroleum, and he was in town just hours before Tuesday’s strike.
At this point, Delta Western workers says they are still waiting for the company to formally respond to a written request they made in February — to be recognized as union members.
Payne, the president of Delta Western, says that’s not going to happen.
“What the union needs to do is to file a petition with the NLRB that says, ‘Hey, these guys want to be represented,'” he said.
The National Labor Relations Board would run the rest of the unionization process, possibly leading up to a formal vote.
Adam Dalton is an organizer from the Inlandboatmen’s Union. He’s been in Unalaska for the past two weeks, and he says the workers are getting ready to file a petition with the NLRB sometime soon.
In the meantime, Dalton says he’s convinced that changing the locks at Delta Western did keep union supporters from accessing facilities. And Dalton says that that violates the National Labor Relations Act.
“Basically any change to the workers’ conditions — to the conditions of their employment — that they had access to before, would be an unfair labor practice,” he said.
Dalton says the union is adding this alleged violation to a complaint they filed with the NLRB last month. At that time, the Inlandboatmen’s Union accused Delta Western of trying to intimidate and punish its pro-union workers.
That kind of behavior is what the workers said they were responding to when they walked off the job on Tuesday.
About a half a dozen Delta Western employees joined the picket line, despite the fact that the company’s fuel barge had just arrived to deliver a shipment.
Delta Western rounded up a crew to unload the fuel. But they also called the police.
Unalaska police sergeant Bill Simms says the picketers were technically trespassing as they stood at the mouth of Delta Western’s fuel dock.
The protesters moved, the police didn’t get any more complaints, and the strike went on as planned.
“Delta Western, you don’t care. Unsafe, unfair. Delta Western, you don’t care,” the crowd chanted.
Delta Western has roughly 18 workers at its fuel shop in Unalaska. Right now, about seven of them want to join the union.