Coca-Cola workers say Monday walkout will dry up pop supply

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A strike by Calgary Coca Cola workers opposed to contracting out will severely impact the supply of the beverage, says their union.

On Monday morning, about 270 workers walked off the job and set up picket lines at the company’s northeast plant.

While non-unionized workers were attempting to deliver product from the facility, the availability of the popular beverage will soon be squeezed if the dispute continues, said Brock Penner, business agent for Teamster Local Union 987.

“We may not see it in the next few days but you’ll see an impact in the delivery of Coke products,” said Penner.

“There’s only enough product produced and stored in the warehouse for a couple of days.”

Among the strikers are production, distribution, equipment servicing and warehouse staff who on March voted 94 per cent to strike.

The Calgary plant supplies all of Alberta and parts of B.C. and Saskatchewan with pop like Coke and Sprite and specialty products such as Dasani bottled water, said Penner.

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He said the union believed it was on the verge of a settlement after being without a contract since last October.

But a few weeks ago, he said the employer began using third-party drivers to deliver Coca Cola beverages to Loblaws-operated stores, triggering the latest conflict, said Penner.

“They’ve started contracting out more and more and our people have said ‘enough is enough,’” said Penner, adding the union’s members had been considered essential workers during the health crisis.

“We’ve been dedicated during this pandemic and before that and believe we should be getting what we deserve – stability in the workplace.”

The main sticking point, said Penner, is job security.

Due to the pandemic slowdown, some of the plant’s unionized workers have been idled at home while third-party workers have been doing their jobs, said Penner.

“This is a race to the bottom…people need certainty in their lives right now,” he said.

Coca Cola will maintain the supply of its products in Alberta through production at the Calgary and shipments from its other Canadian facilities, said company spokesperson Nicola Krishna.

She said the company and the union reached agreements twice, but neither deal was ratified by the union’s membership, calling the walkout “unnecessary and unfortunate.”

The company did not seek any concessions during collective bargaining, Krishna added.

“We have put forth a proposal that provides long-term stability, offers wage increases, and other improved working conditions, while still meeting the needs of our business in these extraordinary times,” she said.

“We’re committed to the collective bargaining process and are prepared to return to the bargaining table to reach a resolution as soon as possible.”

-with files from CP

on Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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