Steven Voss
A long-simmering dispute between bike messengers and their bosses boiled over last week, when eight of nine bike couriers from Transerv went on strike. Culminating months of labor disputes--including what messengers call a sabotaged IWW union election in August--downtown Portland businesses saw packages rerouted Thursday and Friday as bike messengers refused to deliver. The messengers want better working conditions, more autonomy, and basically, more respect.

Although the number of messengers working at Transerv is not great, the argument has taken on special importance because most of Portland's bike couriers have, at one time, worked for Transerv. It was once the city's only "entry-level" messenger firm. Dozens showed up to show support against what has been termed an unfriendly and increasingly repressive management.

Strikers distributed a flyer to Transerv clients and passersby that explained the management's attacks on pro-union employees: "Transerv has written up or fired every employee who testified on behalf of the unionthey have brought in temporary workersand gone to all lengths to make union supporters feel threatened and unwelcome." The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating charges that Transerv management "illegally harassed and intimidated" pro-union workers.

The last straw for the bikes was October 15, when Doug Popp, a pro-union dispatcher, was fired without warning for "talking about things not work-related on the radio." Transcripts from dispatch radio conversations show this recently developed rule was rarely--and selectively--enforced.

At times, the strike turned physical on Friday. In the morning, a messenger and former Transerv employee, who has asked not to be named, "exchanged unpleasantries" with Steve Guitteriez, Transerv Vice-President. Later in the day, the messenger was standing over his bicycle when he reportedly encountered Guitteriez again. According to the messenger, Guitteriez "sorta lost it" and pushed him over.

Mike Chiapetta, who has biked for Transerv for more than two years, views these public relations gaffes as evidence that Transerv management realizes it's in trouble. "They're either going to [meet our demands], or run the company into the ground," he says. "We hope they settle the strike."

Transerv president Steve Chasteen refused to comment about the strike or the bikers' allegations.