Some Pickets Were At End Of Line

They were out there just waiting for someone to drive up and tell them it’s over.

The Teamsters have been picketing United Parcel Service centers in Eastern Washington and North Idaho for 15 days, toting battered signs, wearily pacing the hot pavement and hoping for good news.

That news may have come Monday night, with the announcement of a tentative agreement between UPS and Teamsters union negotiators.

The announcement came none too soon for full-time and part-time UPS employees who said they were planning to find other work if the contract negotiation continued much longer.

Bruce Billingsly, who has driven a truck for UPS for 22 years stopped at the Teamster encampment outside the Spokane UPS center Monday looking for good news. Though he wouldn’t cross the picket line, he’s eager for a chance to vote on the last contract offer. If nothing happens soon, he’ll turn elsewhere for work.

Being on strike means he’s given up a solid salary for just $55 a week from the Teamsters. “Fifty-five dollars gets me gas money to come down here and a beer on Friday night,” the driver said.

It doesn’t make house payments.

Though his wife works at a soft ware company and his children are grown, Billingsly said he will soon have to take another job to get by.

It may be hard to find work that fits him so perfectly, he said. “I’m hyper, I love people and I like to drive fast.”

His delivery route covers the hills and mountains north of Spokane and east to the Idaho border. It includes the most square miles of any route assigned from the Spokane center.

“On a route like mine, no two days are ever the same,” Billingsly said. “I also see the most deer, the most elk, the most wild swans, the most cougars and the most bears.”

While Billingsly has the full-time route that many UPS employees dream of, Rob Burton doesn’t want to do anything but work part-time. Burton, 22, has worked as a loader for two years to support his studies in electrical engineering at ITT Technical Institute. Last October he was named employee of the month by his supervisors.

The strike hit him harder than most. He’s getting married this weekend and has a child on the way.

“It’s a bad time for a strike,” he said. “The baby was good news, but it’s bad timing.”

The job is ideal for Burton who wants only a few hours of daily work while in school. “I took this job because it was part time, it paid decent for part time, and I needed the benefits,” he said.

He doesn’t share the desire for promotion held by other part-time workers who wait up to seven years to step into a full-time job in Spokane. “This is just a pit stop, a place to get by,” he said.

But after two weeks of a strike, he’s not getting by. Burton’s ready to hunt for new work and will start making calls at the end of the week. “I have a list of phone numbers just waiting,” he said. “The bills are piling up.”

Under pressure from the Clinton administration, the union and UPS appear to have come to terms at the bargaining table, sources close to the talks told Associated Press Monday night.

Before the reported agreement, the union released a statement Monday saying UPS workers and their supporters would increase activities this week to draw attention to the strike.

In Washington, more than 60 UPS workers had gone back to work. “We have more and more UPS-ers that are considering and deciding to cross the picket lines and come to work,” said Al Rapp, a Seattle-based spokesman for the company. There were no reports of workers crossing the lines in Eastern Washington or North Idaho.

At the same time, encouragement from other unions had bolstered the morale of pickets. Sunday evening, a few dozen members of United Steelworkers of America came to the Spokane center to shake hands and wave some signs.

“We had no idea they were coming,” said Barbara Carrigan, a part-time worker with UPS. “It was just like ‘Field of Dreams’ with the cars lined up and the lights coming down the road.”

About 15 cars arrived with steelworkers who joined the UPS workers for more than an hour.

“It’s pretty lonely out there in the dark on Sunday night,” said Carrigan. “I’m not sure we could hold out if we were alone.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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