AL: Coca-Cola Strike News

Local Coca Cola bottling and delivery ran normally Monday, or work barely limped along.

On the second day of the Teamsters union strike against Coca Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated in southwest Alabama and southeast Mississippi, those were the competing versions of reality put forth by the company and strikers.

No talks were in sight as Teamsters manned picket lines in Tillman’s Corner, Robertsdale, Leroy and Vancleave, Miss. The only contact between the two sides was through the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service, which aids negotiations between unions and employers, said Jim Gookins, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 991, based in Mobile.

Gookins said he understood through the mediator, that the company wants workers to return to their jobs before any more negotiations. Lauren Steele, vice president of corporate affairs for Coca-Cola Consolidated said he knew of no such precondition to talks.

Both sides agree the dispute centers on the company’s desire to freeze the traditional pension plan and instead make larger contributions to a 401K retirement savings plan. Steele said the proposal includes payments to help older workers make up the difference in expected pensions. But Gookins has said they aren’t enough, and that veteran workers would be especially pinched.

The three-year contract offer also included an annual raise of 3.25 percent.

Steele said the company has been pinched by soaring costs for fuel, corn syrup and other materials, and made a fair offer despite “very difficult economic conditions.”

Workers saw it otherwise, rejecting the deal 176 to 15 Saturday evening, hours before the strike began.

I can appreciate the Mobile Press-Register for trying to keep the news of the strike in the forefront.

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