Union threatens strikes at Coca-Cola

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Coca-cola, Soft drink, Strike action

Plans to cut 3,500 jobs in a restructuring drive at Coca-Cola's
main bottling arm may lead to widespread industrial action in the
US, warned a prominent union for soft drinks sector workers.

Low morale, looming job losses and a failure to provide affordable healthcare meant workers may soon down tools at Coca-Cola and its bottling arm, Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), the Teamsters union said. It held a special conference with investors, analysts and journalists on Monday to express its concerns about Coca-Cola, where the union represents 18,000 workers. The conference comes in the same week Coca-Cola is due to hold its annual meeting. A previous Teamsters strike across CCE bottling plants in 2005 caused disruption as drivers, packers and warehouse workers picketed lines. ​Now, the union has warned of more "widespread work stoppages"​ in the near future. "Coca-Cola's approach to labour relations has deteriorated, leaving workers with uncertainty and low morale,"​ said David Laughton, secretary treasurer at Teamsters. Laughton criticised Coke's attitude in the recent dispute over Powerade distribution in the US and also CCE's "ill-conceived, short-sighted restructuring plan",​ which is set to see 3,500 jobs cut over the next two years. CCE announced the restructuring plan earlier this year at the same time as unveiling a $1.7bn loss for 2006, largely due to a $2.9bn impairment charge. John Brock, the firm's chief executive officer, justified the restructuring plan: "Shifting consumer preferences away from carbonated soft drinks and onto non-carbs, the fact that our non-carb portfolio is less robust than it could be, and the impact of unprecedented cost increases on our 2007 profitability, have all combined to create the need for this change."​ But workers were incensed after it emerged that top CCE executives were to receive discretionary cash awards for their performance during the year. Brock himself got $1m, the firm said in a stock exchange filing after its results announcement.

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