Fifteen months after narrowly voting to unionize, two dozen truck driver, and warehouse workers at Goodwill Industries of the Columbia are about to vote to decertify Teamsters Local 839.
The vote by mail takes place in coming weeks and will be overseen by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board. Because it is a mail-in election, the results will not likely be known until January at the earliest.
A month after returning to Goodwill as a truck driver, West Richland resident Robert Wilstead filed a petition on Nov. 9 to call for an election with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board.
According to the petition, at least 30 percent of the bargaining unit’s 24 members no longer wish to be represented by the Teamsters.
Employees at seven Goodwill Industries stores voted to join the Teamsters on a 12-10 ballot in September 2015 after approaching the union to represent them in efforts to improve wages, benefits and working conditions. Wages start at $16.50 per hour and the highest paid union member receives $24 per hour, according to the union. There is no retirement plan.
Wilstead said the union failed to deliver and Goodwill has addressed many of the issues on its own, including replacing old trucks with new models.
Why pay a union to do something that’s already done.
Robert Wilstead of West Richland
“Why pay a union to do something that’s already done?” he asked, noting that the two employees who pushed for a union have since left the company.
The Teamsters attempted to block the decertification drive on Nov. 11 by filing a charge with the labor relations board.
The union accused Goodwill of violating labor laws by hiring Wilstead, the brother-in-law of Goodwill’s now-former executive director, Gordon Comfort, and of supporting his efforts to get fellow bargaining unit members to sign the petition to decertify the union.
Wilstead said Comfort’s only role was to direct him to the labor board’s website when he asked about getting rid of a union.
“I played by the rules,” he said.
The labor relations board temporarily blocked petition gathering while it investigated, but ruled there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing and allowed the process to continue.
A Teamsters spokesman said it will not to appeal and expects to prevail when votes are counted.
Russell Shierven, principal officer for the local, urged members to stay strong. After a year of negotiations, he said it was close to having a contract to present for a vote.
“Stay strong. We’re at the bargaining table,” he said.
Stay strong. We’re at the bargaining table.
Russell Shierven, Teamsters
New members do not pay dues until there is a ratified contract in place, meaning the Goodwill workers have not yet paid union dues.
According to a time line provided by the Teamsters, contract negotiations began Dec. 15, 2015, nearly three months after the union was certified. Sessions continued until September 2016 when both parties agreed to invite a federal mediator to aid the talks.
The Columbia chapter of Goodwill Industries provides education, training and employment services to individuals with disabilities and social disadvantages.
It employed 676 people in 2014, according to its most recently publicly-available filing with the Internal Revenue Service. It operates a network of stores and donation sites throughout the Mid-Columbia and reported $15 million in revenue and nearly $13.7 million in expenses, including $10 million for salaries.
Its highest paid employee was Gordon Comfort.
The former Richland High School principal earned $226,000 in salary and other compensation. Comfort, now a Richland school board member, was succeeded by Ken Gosney shortly after the initial vote to ratify the union. Gosney was not available for comment.