Coca-Cola workers in Bluefield authorize a strike
Union workers at Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated’s Bluefield operations have authorized a strike after their contract expired, saying the company wants to shift too much of its health care costs onto employees.
The 28 employees represented by Teamsters Local 175 at Coca-Cola Consolidated’s warehouse and delivery facility in Bluefield are not yet on strike, said Luke Farley, attorney for the local.
But with the unanimous strike authorization by workers after their contract expired July 28, they could go on strike at any moment, he said.
“Right now they’re working day-to-day, which means there’s no contract in place and nothing for them to prevent a strike,” he said.
Ralph Winter, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 175, said a strike is “very likely.”
The company wants “to double the employees’ medical deductibles and increase out-of-pocket costs by close to five times,” despite health insurance costs dropping by more than $600,000 over the past three years for the company, according to a news release from the union.
Winter said a union-proposed, multi-employer health plan could save Coca-Cola Consolidated $250,000 to $500,000. But the company claims it would have no control over the agreement, he said.
In a statement, Coca-Cola Consolidated spokesman Brian Nick said the company stands ready to continue discussions, “but thus far the Union is not joining us in this good faith effort. We greatly value our West Virginia teammates and don’t believe the Union’s refusal to continue negotiations is in the best interest of our teammates.”
The local also represents about 130 other Coca-Cola Consolidated employees in Charleston, Logan, Parkersburg and Clarksburg.
In 2000, Coca-Cola Consolidated employees in West Virginia went on strike for 21 weeks, after Huntington workers rejected a new contract due to wages and benefits not being strong enough, prior to an announcement that the Huntington facility would close, the Charleston Gazette reported at the time.