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Strikers Vent Rage At Workers Who Cross Line As Boeing Strike Enters 10th Week, Pickets Grow More Intolerant

Ten weeks ago, Boeing Machinists sought out nurse Marlyn Pugsley to wrap a sprain, cool a fever or check their hearing.

Now, they treat her like a scab.

Pugsley, one of four union workers in Spokane who have crossed a picket line set up Oct. 6 by striking International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, lives in terror with her barking cockapoo in a usually quiet home behind Pines Cemetery in the Valley.

Early morning vandals have spray-painted her driveway, jammed her automatic garage door, tossed eggs against her house, dumped her grandchildren’s swingset in the bushes and left burning candles on her porch, Pugsley said.

One morning, visitors burned the words “scab” into Pugsley’s front lawn in giant letters visible from the curb. Apparently scared off by a newspaper carrier, the attackers left a soaked rag and 3.5-gallon can of gasoline that Spokane County Sheriff deputies seized as evidence.

“They’ve been awful,” said Pugsley, a 58-year-old widow who shares concerns with two other single women who chose to go back to work during the second-longest strike in Boeing history. “If we had husbands, I don’t think they’d touch us. They have no right to invade the privacy of our home.”

The fourth worker, a single man, began crossing the picket line this week. He reported no incidents of violence at his home.

Pugsley said she returned to work one week after the strike began because she needed the money and believed the Boeing contract proposal was satisfactory.

But as the strike enters its 10th week in sub-freezing temperatures, union workers are growing increasingly hostile toward “scabs” who brave the gauntlet of pickets outside Boeing’s Airway Heights fabrication plant.

Violence in Spokane hasn’t reach levels occurring south of Seattle, where a Machinist is the prime suspect in burning down a fellow worker’s cabin. Tolerance toward those who violate union solidarity, however, has grown thin.

“We want their neighbors to know they’re living next to a scab,” said Jerry Gepford Jr., a 32-year-old plastic bench mechanic who said he has picketed the homes of Machinists who went back to work. “We get along with just about everyone. But those scabs, that’s another thing.”

Gepford, a night shop steward for the Machinists Local 86, braced against an arctic blast on the picket line at the Boeing plant. He said he has not vandalized anyone’s property, but has little sympathy for those who have gone back to work.

“I feel real sorry for them - yeah, right,” Gepford said, rolling his eyes. “We’re out here freezing off our ass for them while they sit inside a warm building, collecting a paycheck.”

Law enforcement officers have recorded names of those picketing private homes. But investigators have no eyewitnesses to vandalism.

“We’ve got about 200 to 300 suspects,” said Sergeant Gary Smith, alluding to the Machinists membership in Spokane.

Boeing spokeswoman Diane Ressler described the vandalism as “deplorable.” However, she said the company believes only a few strikers are responsible.

“The vast majority of employees are not involved,” Ressler said. “It’s just a core group.”

Of the 32,500 Machinists striking nationwide, Boeing estimates 3,800 have crossed the picket line. The majority are in Wichita, Kan., a so-called right-to-work state.

The union disputes those figures, saying it’s closer to 1,600 - or 3 percent of its membership.

“We have this place shut down, crippled, dead in the water,” Machinists spokesman Matt Bates said Friday from Seattle.

The Machinists represent 293 workers in Spokane.

Entering its 10th week, the strike is the second-longest in Boeing history. Pickets are hopeful that negotiations this weekend between Boeing and the union will result in a new three-year contract before Christmas.

Pattie Diacogiannis, a 63-year-old who lives on the North Side, will be relieved when Machinists return to work and she can stop living in fear.

Diacogiannis crossed the picket line Oct. 17 to save her retirement benefits. She said she made the decision because she wants to retire at age 65 with a fully vested pension and Social Security benefits. The longer she’s off work, the longer she has to wait to retire and less money she will get to retire on.

Machinists picketed her home almost immediately after Diacogiannis went back to work, carrying signs that read “Patty’s a Scab!” Since that time, vandals have pelted her house with eggs and left angry messages on her answering machine, Diacogiannis said.

“I don’t like to live this way - afraid my car might get broken into or come home and my windows are smashed,” said Diacogiannis, a former bartender who earns $17.60 an hour bagging parts at Boeing. “Why don’t they leave it out there (Boeing plant) where it belongs and stop harassing me at my home?”

At 3:30 p.m. daily, pickets conduct what they call “scab patrol” outside the Boeing plant. Lining a cul-de-sac that leads to the front gate, pickets give friendly waves to managers and other non-union employees. But when Pugsley and Diacogiannis creep through the gate, the scene turns ugly.

“Get her!” one picket yelled Thursday as Diacogiannis cruised by in her 1986 Chrysler Laser. “Scab! You’re taking our jobs!” shouted another.

Huddled inside a heated hut on the site, one woman, who asked to remain anonymous to protect herself, said she empathizes with Pugsley and the others. She believes it’s wrong to harass the women without attempting to understand why they went back to work.

But that’s an unpopular view, the woman explained as another picket interrupted at the hutch door.

“Come on!” the picket coaxed. “It’s time to go yell at the scabs.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)

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