500 Coca-Cola workers in Wash. on strike

500 Coca-Cola workers in Wash. on strike »Play Video
SEATTLE -- Some 500 employees of Coca-Cola in Washington state have walked off the job and are on strike, according to a company official.

The disgruntled workers, who are members of six local chapters of the Teamsters, said the company has failed to bargain in good faith with employees, resulting in a deadlock in negotiations, which began in April. The workers have been working without a contract since May 15, when their last contract expired.

"The last thing we wanted is a strike, but Coke has left us no alternative," said Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Local 117 and lead negotiator for the Union.

The union said the company is trying to eliminate health care for retirees, and to raise employees' health care premiums by 800 percent.

"I gave them 29 years of service. They've only given me nine," said Coca-Cola retiree Jerry Anderson, whose wife just had a stroke.

"We haven't been engaged in meaningful bargains with them since June. They've been engaging in intimidating tactics, surveillance and all sorts of fair labor bargaining practices," Thompson said. "The negotiators didn't have the authority to negotiate over key issues. They've just never really come to the table to bargain."

According to the Teamsters, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is investigating the company for violations of federal labor law, including surveillance of its employees, and threatening to retaliate against workers for engaging in protected activities. The workers said managers watched and intimidated employee who handed out leaflets outlining their gripe outside Qwest Field and supermarkets.

"It's total intimidation when your managers are there and you're doing something to highlight what the company has been engaged in. And management is there taking pictures of you -- that's incredibly intimidating," said Thompson.

However, Bob Phillips, Coca-Cola's vice president of public affairs, told KOMO News late Monday the company is willing to negotiate, and is just waiting on a call back from the union.

"We have been willing to negotiate. We've given the union ample opportunity to negotiate. They have not been flexible on date; however, we've been more than willing to negotiate," he said.

Phillips said the company "does not engage in intimidation in any shape, order or form."

"We always and will continue to assure and productive workplace," he said. "We always have and we will continue to treat all employees with dignity and respect."

The strike affects all six Coca-Cola facilities in Western Washington.

"These are production people. These are sales, the drivers," said Thompson. "These are the merchandisers. These are the warehouse workers. These are the transport drivers. These are everybody who makes Coca-Cola products, and brings them out to the customers."

Phillips said a "strong contingency plan" is in place to keep the company operating during the strike.