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Deal May End Strike at Coke Plants

June 02, 2005|Nancy Cleeland | Times Staff Writer

Teamsters negotiators reached a deal with Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. early Wednesday morning that, if ratified by members today, will end the union's 10-day-old strike against the company's seven Los Angeles-area bottling and distribution plants.

"We're recommending ratification," said Patrick D. Kelly, secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 952.

"I can't go into the details yet, but I can tell you we were able to improve our healthcare benefits, which is the most remarkable aspect of this settlement," he added.

Coca-Cola Enterprises spokesman Bob Phillips would not comment on any aspect of the new contract except to say, "We're optimistic that once the employees vote, the strike will be over. At this point, we're just focusing on the process of preparing for a return to work on Friday."

About 1,700 Teamsters drivers, packers and warehouse workers walked off the job May 23 in a dispute over wages and rising health insurance costs. The union launched a boycott of Coke products Friday and distributed about 15,000 boycott leaflets at Dodger Stadium on Memorial Day.

The Atlanta-based company, about 36% owned by Coca-Cola Co., bottles and distributes about 80% of the Coke sold in the United States.

Coca-Cola Enterprises spokesman Phillips would not comment on the strike's effect, but Teamsters official Kelly said it at least forced the company to pay large amounts of money for replacement drivers.

Coca-Cola Enterprises, which employs about 5,000 people in the Los Angeles area, had said at the start of the strike that it would use supervisors to perform the work.

Drivers now earn about $15 to $20 per hour. Phillips said last week that the company's wages and benefits were "excellent and very competitive," but union leaders said Coca-Cola Enterprises was proposing steep cuts in healthcare benefits -- a recurring theme in recent contract negotiations.

"This is important, not just for us but for everybody," Kelly said. "We need to get away from letting these companies keep cutting benefits. Otherwise, the public just ends up picking up the tab."

The ratification vote was set to start at 9 a.m., and Teamsters officials said they expected to announce results by noon.

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