Workers strike at Coca-Cola, 7UP plants and call for boycotts

Dozens of workers who distribute beverages for Coca-Cola, 7Up, and several other popular brands are striking amid ongoing union contract negotiations 

77 employees represented by Teamsters Local 337 at a 7Up bottling plant in Redford Township, Michigan, outside of Detroit, have been on strike since March 11 over an unfair pay system. 

Workers are striking over pay disparities between two tiers of workers, with a group of predominantly Black workers receiving nearly $3 an hour less than a predominantly white group of workers for the same work, an issue the union has fought to get rid of in previous contract negotiations. The workers are also pushing to receive Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid holiday. 

Michael Beatty, a union shop steward and employee at the bottling plant, said during the pandemic, himself and other employees were working through it, often 12 hour shifts, six days a week to keep up with increased demand.

“We already have a two tiered pay system in the warehouse that predominantly affects African American employees. So about 87 percent of the warehouse are Black employees who make $2.30 less than everyone else, and potentially within the contract that they’re offering, it could reduce it to $3.30 less than everyone else,” said Beatty. “We've made the company a lot of money during the pandemic, and they repay us by offering terrible contracts.”

The union has called for a boycott of 7Up products in support of the strike, which is part of Keurig Dr. Pepper’s portfolio of brands

The strike has received support from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Congressional representatives Rashida tlaib, Andy Levin, and Debbie Dingell, who joined picket lines on March 20. As the strike continues, the union is currently considering expanding picket lines to shopping centers where 7Up products are sold. 

“It's our membership who are driving this, who want equality,” said Todd Lince, President of Teamsters Local 337. “They could have solved all these problems by giving money to their employees instead of hiring outside scabs, a private security firm, and an outside attorney.” 

A spokesperson for Keurig Dr. Pepper declined to comment on the record in regards to the pay disparity complaints and use of private security and replacement workers. In a statement to the Detroit Free Press, Keurig Dr. Pepper said in regards to the MLK Day issue, "During negotiations, Teamsters Local 337 are able to select MLK Day as one of their nine designated pay holidays, as has been done at many other pay company sites,” though the union asserts this would force workers to give up Easter in exchange. 

80 truck drivers, warehouse workers, and merchandisers represented by Teamsters Local 170 in Westborough, Massachusetts are also currently on strike at a Coca-Cola Northeast bottling plant after rejecting the company’s final offer in new contract negotiations which would have eliminated seniority rights of employees. 

The union has called for a boycott of Coca-Cola products in support of the strike, as Coca-Cola Northeast is using replacement workers during the strike. Throughout the strike, the union has pointed out several instances of replacement workers causing accidents with Coca-Cola trucks. An attorney representing Coca-Cola claimed the alleged incidents are “fake news.” 

Teamsters local 170 business agent Sean Foley explained workers decided to strike over changes to pay structure and classification for employees, such as the creation of a new sales merchandiser position where workers with multiple years of experience would have to apply for those new positions.

“This is probably the most profitable of their 13 locations, and for whatever reason now the company doesn't want to show the employees loyalty when for the past year the workers have shown their loyalty to the company through the pandemic and the gratitude the company shows is they want to take away their seniority,” said Foley.  “I let the company know, when we went out on strike that I was available, day or night, 24/7, to sit down and negotiate, but at this point they haven’t reached out.” 

Teamsters Local 987 in Calgary, Canada have also called for a boycott of all Coca-Cola products as over 200 of their members have been on strike since March 15 over concerns regarding job security and the use of third party contractors at a Coca-Cola bottling plant. 

Coca-Cola deferred comment to the attorney serving as the company’s chief negotiator in new contract negotiations with the union. 

“Although my client’s offer makes changes to seniority, we firmly believe that on balance the changes are pro-seniority and definitely pro-employee,” the attorney said in an email. “Negotiations are at a standstill.” The attorney and the union disputed each other's vote participation counts for the last contract proposal offered by the company, which workers rejected. 

UPDATE: On March 31, the Coca-Cola workers in Westborough, MA returned to work after ratifying a 3-year agreement in a 47-11 vote. “Their unity and perseverance over this 16-day period should be an inspiration to all, which only confirms that corporate greed and bullying can be defeated when you stand united,” Teamsters Local 170 said in a Facebook post announcing the end of the strike.