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Coca-Cola Refreshments hails 'confidence' in management as union tastes Texas defeat

By Ben Bouckley , 21-Sep-2012
Last updated the 22-Sep-2012 at 10:05 GMT

The Teamster union organised a 'Coca-Cola Worker Solidarity Action' outside the firm's HQ in Atlanta, Georgia on September 14

The Teamster union organised a 'Coca-Cola Worker Solidarity Action' outside the firm's HQ in Atlanta, Georgia on September 14

Coca-Cola has hailed a 'vote of confidence' in management, after staff voted against making its Fort Worth bottling site the firm's first corporate-owned unionized plant in the South.

The run up to the vote in Texas attracted widespread media attention upon this basis, but a National Labor Review Board (NLRB) supervised secret ballot on Wednesday saw 215 votes cast in favor and 191 against.

Around 400 employees had been eligible to join the Teamsters Local Union No.997 in balloting at local NLRB offices.

The relevant Teamsters communications department in Washington DC was unavailable for comment on the ballot results as we went to press.

But in a statement sent to BeverageDaily.com, Coca-Cola Refreshments said: "This is a vote of confidence in our local management team, who remain committed to working hard with all of their employees to ensure they merit the trust and confidence placed in them."

"We strive to maintain and enhance our direct relationship with our employees and while we respect our employees’ right to choose whether or not to be represented by a union, we are pleased and grateful that employees decided to reaffirm their direct working relationship with the company."

Union hopes dashed

Barring any objections from the union, Coca-Cola Refreshments said it expected the NLRB to certify the results within seven to 10 days. "We hope the union will respect the employees’ decision," it added.

Prior to the vote, Teamsters organizer Ben Speight had told Fort Worth paper the Star Telegram that a union majority would be “earth shattering”, and prove it was possible to overcome Coke’s alleged pressure tactics.

Pro-union workers at Coke were seeking better pay, an end to what they claimed was favoritism in promotion and shift assignments, lower-cost health plans and better job security.

Demands also centered on increased pay for overtime, fewer temporary workers and less outsourcing; Teamsters Local 997 represented drivers at Molson Coors and Bimbo Bakeries, the Star Telegram added.

The Teamsters failed unionization effort at the Coca-Cola site was its second in 15 months, after the firm was forced to call off an earlier planned voted on procedural grounds in June 2011.

'Right to work' in Texas

Unionization rates are non-existent among the Coca-Cola Company’s Southern sites, namely because states such as Texas have ‘right to work’ (RTW) legislation in place.

Where this exists in 23 (mainly Southern) states across the US, it means that union membership or payment of dues is non-compulsory for workers.

Supporters of RTW laws oppose so-called ‘forced unionism’ and a February 2011 Economic Policy Institute (EPI) study found both unemployment and the cost of living lower in such states.

However, in the same EPI briefing paper , authors Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz concluded that the ‘mean effect’ of working in such a state was a 3.2% reduction in staff wages.

“The fact is, while RTW legislation misleadingly sounds like a positive change in this weak economy, in reality the opportunity it gives workers is only that of working for lower wages and fewer benefits,” they wrote.

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