Union stirs up coverage of truck driver fired by Coke

Sylmar, CA: The firing of a Coca-Cola delivery-truck driver has turned into an international media story, with the Teamsters planning more actions this week to keep the media's attention.

Sylmar, CA: The firing of a Coca-Cola delivery-truck driver has turned into an international media story, with the Teamsters planning more actions this week to keep the media's attention.

Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Southern California dismissed a truck driver on June 12, saying he had slandered Coke products by drinking a can of Pepsi while on duty.

The Teamsters, which represent drivers at the bottling company, quickly issued a news release alleging that the firing was because of union-organizing efforts by the fired driver. The Teamsters recently won the right to organize merchandisers at the company as well, said Jim Santangelo, international VP at Teamsters Local 848.

Santangelo has already been contacted by media from 27 countries that have picked up the story. He has appeared on such outlets as CNN and WOR-TV in New York. Even Jay Leno has mentioned it in a monologue, Santangelo said.

The union isn't done trying to focus media attention on the situation. This week, it hopes to have 250 Coke drivers walk into work drinking Pepsi to see if the company will fire them all, Santangelo said. "You'll hear about that," he said, referring to possible media coverage.

Speaking of the June 12 incident, he said, "They fired him because he was involved in

the union election with the merchandisers."

Bob Phillips, who handles PR for the bottling company, said that while he couldn't comment on a specific employee's case, the company has policies against retaliating against employees' union activities. "We respect the right of hourly employees to organize. We have a strict policy against retaliation," he said.

Coverage of the case has been balanced, Phillips said. "Any story about the soft-drink industry, because it's so competitive, is fodder for the media," he said.

Phillips said he thought the story had run its course, and he wasn't aware of Teamster plans for the Pepsi drink-in. He also said the incident won't hurt labor relations at the company, which is owned by Coca-Cola Enterprises, the major bottler of Coke around the world.

"I think we have good relations with our employees, including those covered by

collective-bargaining agreements," he said. "We respect the right of hourly employees

to organize following the processes of the National Labor Relations Board" (NLRB).

But Santangelo described the company as "hard to get along with" when it comes to labor relations. He said the company had filed an objection to the recent election with the NLRB. Phillips said the board was reviewing results of what he termed a very close election.

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