By J.J. Huggins
METHUEN — Police arrested a truck driver who allegedly waved his middle finger at strikers at the Shaw's warehouse yesterday and then allegedly assaulted a police officer.
Strikers said the trucker drove erratically near the picket line in front of the Shaw's warehouse on Danton Drive.
"The driver was trying to run us over," said picketer Pedro Estevez, 41, of Lawrence.
A police officer monitoring the picket line spoke to the driver and the driver tried to open the truck door at the officer and then drove away, strikers said.
Police charged the driver, Robert Dickel Jr., 45, of Middletown, Pa., with two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He was being held last night on $5,000 cash bail and was due to be arraigned this morning in Lawrence District Court.
Strikers identified the truck as a white tractor-trailer with a Greatwide logo on the side. Greatwide is a trucking company that works for grocery retailers. A Greatwide official did not return a call.
Shaw's is investigating and cooperating with police, said spokeswoman Judy Chong.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 791 represents 300 employees at the cold-storage facility, where workers have been on strike since March 7. A dozen workers stood outside the plant holding signs in the pouring rain yesterday.
"This isn't a joke," said Michael Beckett, 34, of Haverhill, who insisted that strikers have obeyed the law.
Employees voted 228-8 on March 7 to reject a contract offer and go on strike. Since then, workers have been surviving on $100 a week from the union and donated food.
Beckett, a father of three, is worried about paying bills like his $975 monthly rent.
"Right now, it's unclear if I can collect unemployment or not. So for the first time in my life, I had to sign up for welfare," said Beckett, a food selector, who has been working there for 12 years.
Beckett said Shaw's wanted workers to pay $100 more per week for health care.
"I have three kids to feed and I have to give them good health care," said Estevez, a food selector, who has worked at the facility for eight years.
Chong said the company's offer would provide pay increases, bonuses, and contributions to 401(k) plans and pensions.
Workers noted that Shaw's parent company, Supervalu Inc., earned $109 million in the third quarter of last year.
"Instead of giving to us, they want to take from us," Estevez said.
"So we're just out here battling the rain, snow, whatever," Beckett said. "It might be a long road, but we're keeping our solidarity with the workers and we just want to get a fair shake."
The company's gross earnings were down compared with the same quarter in 2008.