Darigold lockout nearing end?

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The union representing 200 locked-out local dairy employees said yesterday its members had ratified a pair of contract proposals, signaling a possible end to a labor dispute that has been knotted at a stalemate for nearly nine months.

While union officials hailed the ratifications as a breakthrough, the news came as a surprise last night to WestFarm representatives, who said they hadn't seen the proposals approved by Teamsters members.

"We just don't know what they voted on," said WestFarm spokesman Joel VanEtta. "We have to figure out the specific terms they voted on and make a determination."

Workers have been locked out since Aug. 31 at the Seattle and Issaquah plants of WestFarm Foods, which makes Darigold milk and ice cream. The two sides have sparred over wages, benefits and the prospect of future outsourcing.

Yesterday, representatives from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said members of Local 66 had ratified two contract proposals — one offered by WestFarms last month and later amended by the union, as well as a union counterproposal.

Before the lockout is lifted, any final contract requires the company's approval.

Garnet Zimmerman, Teamsters International vice president, said the proposals were faxed to Darigold representatives yesterday afternoon. But no meeting had been scheduled as of last night, and Zimmerman had not heard comment from Darigold representatives.

Employees have rejected previous WestFarm proposals, which they said would open the door to outsourcing workers' jobs.

WestFarm maintains it needs to cut costs to compete with nonunion dairies, whose labor costs are 25 to 30 percent lower.

Zimmerman said a proposal last month from WestFarm called for union members to accept a $1-per-hour reduction in pay and to drop unfair-labor-practice charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Both proposals ratified by union members yesterday address those issues in different ways.

"We're hoping the company accepts the offer and puts workers back to work in six to seven days," Zimmerman said.

"When over 200 workers have been locked out, and people are losing their homes and cars, it's hard to be happy with the terms," he added.

VanEtta, meanwhile, said the company needs to digest the proposals before deciding whether to accept them and end the lockout.

"We'll have to take some time to analyze exactly what they voted on," he said.

Jake Batsell: 206-464-2718 or jbatsell@seattletimes.com

Levi Long: 206-464-2061 or llong@seattletimes.com