Gunshot, intimidation reported at Peak

Union campaign stirs allegations

Posted: Sunday, May 06, 2001

Each side accused the other of intimidation Friday as out-of-town union organizers campaigned along the highway by Peak Oilfield Services in Nikiski.

But there were no arrests by an Alaska State Trooper dispatched to investigate after unionizers claimed a Peak employee had fired a gun.

"I found no evidence of a crime," said Trooper Karl Erickson.

"At this point, no charges are going to be filed."

He said the woman accused of firing the gun denied that there was any weapon present.

Erickson said his investigation did find that there had been a disturbance. However, it was an hour or more from the time unionists called troopers until the time Erickson arrived at Peak's office on the Kenai Spur Highway north of the chemical plants. Erickson said the woman was known to have left the site during that interval, and he had no way of knowing if there was a weapon that disappeared before he arrived.

Peak workers are in the midst of a mail-in vote on whether to unionize. They could vote to organize under the Operating Engineers Local 302 and the Laborers International Union of North America. Or, they could vote to organize under the Teamsters Union Local 959 or not to unionize at all.

The ballots are due by May 31 to be counted by the National Labor Relations Board.

Union officials say Peak employees dissatisfied with health and retirement benefits spurred the effort to unionize. Peak managers and members of the Neither/No Committee, organized to fight unionization, argue that if employees unionize, Peak may be unable to compete with nonunion companies for contracts.

Engineers Local 302 organizers Kelly West of Girdwood, Vincent Hedrick of Concrete, Wash., and Steve Scheffer of Seattle said they were having a friendly conversation with several Peak employees by the highway Friday when a woman who works at Peak came on foot screaming obscenities and telling them to leave.

"I pulled out my camera and took her picture," Hedrick said. "She started running."

He said the woman ran behind a freight Connex container where he thinks she fired a shotgun.

"All of a sudden, Wham! You could see the muzzle blast coming from behind the Connex. She was trying to scare us off," he said. "You should have seen their people. They dropped to the ground."

Hedrick said he thought he saw a shotgun wad fly up with the blast. However, none of the union organizers claimed actually to have seen a gun.

Then, Hedrick said, the woman got in her truck and parked in the Peak driveway.

"She was staring us down. I thought for sure she was going to blast us. She had a big Neither/No Committee button on her jacket," he said.

Eventually, she drove off.

Passers-by waved and honked in support as the unionizers stood by the road. One woman blew a kiss. Hedrick said a few passers-by have made obscene gestures at him, too.

Penny Andrews told the Clarion that she is the Peak employee the union organizers accused of firing a gun.

"I don't know what they're talking about. I don't carry a gun. They're not allowed on the premises," she said. "So I was shocked when the state trooper showed up."

Andrews said she walked out to the unionists Friday and started talking to them.

"I walked straight back," she said. "I never walked behind the Connex. I called the National Labor Relations Board."

She said she probably did use the foul language she had been accused of.

West also said a Peak supervisor ran him off Thursday when he tried to turn his truck around in the Peak parking lot.

Hedrick said Andrews shouted obscenities at them Thursday when they visited the OSK helicopter pad, and then she tried to rip the union banner off their truck.

Andrews said she simply asked the unionists if they had permission to be there with the union banner.

"They were shortly thereafter thrown off because they were not allowed up there," she said.

Bruce Passe, Peak's Cook Inlet area manager said he did not know what precipitated Friday's trooper visit.

"There was a report of a weapon, but he (the trooper) didn't find one, and I don't think there was one," he said. "I never heard anything. I never saw anything. I was in Kenai when I got the call. They heard a bang. We're in a pretty industrial setting."

Passe said he had no idea what really happened Friday morning, and he had not heard of the incident at OSK.

"What I think is, (the unionists are) here to stir up trouble. They're trying intimidation, taking pictures of our employees. What is their purpose for doing this?" he asked.

Peak crane operator Brian Templeton said the pro-union forces were driving back and forth on the Spur on Thursday, and when they tried to turn around on Peak property, he told them to leave.

"Nobody's trying to rip banners off their truck," he said. "Obscenities, yes. If someone flips them off, that's freedom of speech."

Most Peak employees already have mailed their votes in the union campaign, he said.

"I'm not saying the unions are bad. I'm just saying we don't want it," he said.

He said the union organizers have time to picket only because they are out of work.

"The Teamsters and Local 302 and Laborers members are working nonunion jobs because they don't have any union jobs. If they have so many union jobs, how come they're not working?" he asked.

Passe compared the unionization drive to the hostile takeover of a company.

"Emotions get pretty high. We're dealing with a lot of people's jobs here," he said.

Passe said he is courteous to union organizers, and he would encourage his employees to be. He said he would investigate the allegations that a weapon was fired, and if he finds that Andrews brought a firearm onto Peak property, she will be terminated.

"It's against our policy to use violence on Peak property, and no weapons are allowed, period. I've never seen one here," he said.

He said he also would investigate the alleged incident at OSK, and depending on circumstances, that also could result in company discipline.

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