A settlement was reported close at hand last night in the crippling, three-week-old strike by the Teamsters against Virginia Concrete Co., the area's largest concrete supplier.
The two sides met for more than five hours yesterday after four days of escalating tensions between the company and striking drivers in which talks were not held. At the conclusion of the meeting, federal mediator John Wagner said, "They are close to an agreement."
The strike, which began May 16 over wages, pension and job security, has stunted a major construction boom in Northern Virginia, forcing delays, additional costs and scores of layoffs at dozens of construction sites.
According to spokesmen for both the union and the company, the Teamsters made a proposal at yesterday's session, and Wagner recommended that the company accept it.
Company attorney Tom Wotring said last night he would present the proposal to Virginia Concrete officials this morning.
Wotring, who described yesterday's session as amicable, said of the proposed settlement: "This is a classic situation where nobody is doing backflips, but I'm hoping that both sides will give the mediator's recommendation very, very serious consideration.
"If they don't," he continued, "I think this thing will be out of control shortly."
Teamsters Local 639 President Philip Feaster said he believed his members would ratify the proposal, and was confident enough of its acceptance by the company to schedule a ratification meeting of the striking workers for 11 a.m. today at the Springfield Hilton Hotel.
"We did work out some of the key issues," Feaster said. "We have more or less settled our differences, settled them as amicably as we can . . . . We believe our people will accept it. It's now up to the company."
Neither side would disclose details of the proposal, although union officials had said the expiration date of a new contract was the only thing standing in the way of a return to work after the company offered a 15 percent pay raise over three years.
The company sought to move the expiration date from May to November, which was opposed by the union because union officials say they have more leverage in negotiations during May, a peak construction month.
On Monday, Virginia Concrete brought up 100 nonunion truck drivers from its parent company in Florida. Two strikers were slightly injured when they did not move out of the way of a concrete truck being driven by a nonunion worker.
Yesterday, one of those men, Joseph Groomes, 29, of Suitland, returned to the picket line at the company's Edsall Road plant and was served with a summons by Fairfax County police charging him with obstructing free passage, a misdemeanor. His arrest provoked more than a dozen fellow strikers to circle a county police cruiser and raise their arms, offering to be arrested as well.
No other arrests or incidents were reported yesterday.
The U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria confirmed yesterday that it had received a criminal complaint from the Teamsters alleging that the use of the out-of-state drivers violated federal law.