Coke faces Bicoastal Strike

ATLANTA — Just in time for the all-important summer season, workers at Coca-Cola Enterprise plants in California and Connecticut went on strike Monday, the Associated Press has reported.

The 2000 or so workers, mostly production workers and delivery drivers, were in contract negotiations with CCE walked out over the company’s proposal that they pay more for health benefits, according to the A.P.

The timing of the walkout is a pressure tactic that holds summer sales hostage planned by Teamsters Local 1035 in East Hartford, Conn., according to Chris Roos, that union’s leader.

“Within a day or two, you probably won’t see too much Coke on the shelves,” Chris Roos told the AP.

Despite the strike, the Connecticut plant was still running Monday. 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 only in the two bottling plants. The two strikes are over separate contracts.

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.

“These are folks that live paycheck to paycheck, many of them. They’re not well-to-do people. And you have the company giving out huge consulting contracts and lifetime health care coverage for departing executives and that doesn’t seem to bother them,” White said.

Company spokesman 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.”

The last walkout of a CCE plant was in San Diego last summer. It was also over health benefits, according to the AP.