More than 2,000 workers at plants in California and Connecticut that bottle Coca-Cola soft drinks went on strike yesterday, just before...
ATLANTA — More than 2,000 workers at plants in California and Connecticut that bottle Coca-Cola soft drinks went on strike yesterday, just before the start of the summer season.
The workers, mostly production workers and delivery drivers, were in contract negotiations with Coca-Cola Enterprises, the world’s largest beverage bottler. The workers walked out over the company’s proposal that they pay more for health benefits.
Chris Roos, the leader of Teamsters Local 1035 in East Hartford, Conn., said the strike was planned the week before Memorial Day to pressure the company to negotiate or jeopardize summer sales.
“Within a day or two, you probably won’t see too much Coke on the shelves,” he said.
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Despite the strike, the Connecticut plant was still running yesterday. Asked if the strike would disrupt summer Coke deliveries, company spokesman Bob Lanz said, “absolutely not.”
Union leaders say the workers have been arguing with management over health-care costs since last fall. The bottling company has regional, not national, contracts with workers, which is why the strike was at the bottling plants in only two areas. The two strikes are over separate contracts.
Coca-Cola Enterprises is a separate company from Coca-Cola, though it produces 80 percent of Coca-Cola bottles and cans in North America. Bottlers buy concentrate from Coca-Cola and also contribute money for marketing the product.
Coca-Cola owns a stake of roughly 37 percent in Coca-Cola Enterprises, which employs 74,000 people in 46 states.
Shares of Coca-Cola Enterprises rose 28 cents to close at $21.87 yesterday, while shares of Coca-Cola fell 8 cents to close at $44.97 but are comfortably above their 52-week low of $38.30.
David White of Teamsters Brewery & Soft Drink Conference said the 400 striking workers in Connecticut and 1,700 striking workers in Los Angeles were especially upset about health-care plans for executives that White called “lavish.”
The workers, whose average pay is $15 to $20 an hour, can’t afford higher health-care costs, White said.
Lanz said the contract was fair and wouldn’t raise health-care costs for workers.
“We don’t know why they’re striking,” he said. “We offered them a very, very competitive contract.”
John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest magazine, said he doubted the bottling strikes would have immediate impact on the bottler.
“Every strike creates some disruption, but as of now the plants are still running,” he said. “They’re the biggest Coke bottler, and they have a pretty fair amount of experience with this kind of situation.”