Coke and polar bears and profits

by Dan Bouchard
Recording Secretary of CUPE 2544

This week I began my holidays. The previous week I had assembled a long “honey-do” list of items that I had planned to take care of. Amongst the top of them: staining the deck, sealing the driveway and tending to the garden beds. Alas, this has not been the week for any of it as rain has been a constant threat.

What I am turning my thoughts to is what is happening in Brampton between CAW Local 973 and their employer Coca-Cola. On June 27, over 700 members employed at the Brampton facility went on strike.

It has been reported that amongst the list of concessions that Coca-Cola is asking for is cuts to short and long-term disability benefits, a cost-sharing plan requiring workers to pay a portion toward benefits, the elimination of pensions for all new hires and the outsourcing of certain jobs. Imagine that…an American company conducting business in Canada wishing to outsource jobs.

This particular labour dispute bothers me tremendously because Coca-Cola is a corporation that accumulated a $9 BILLION net profit in 2012.

On the surface it appears that Coca Cola is not playing nice with this particular group of workers for fear that it will play a huge role in other negotiations throughout Canada.

I hear you saying “Come on, Coca-Cola isn’t playing nice?” The company with the cuddly polar bears running in their commercial ads is not playing nice? This couldn’t be true!

This is entirely true and even more scary is that Coca-Cola has a history of unfair labour practices with organized labour. Just ask Coke workers in Colombia, Guatemala, Turkey, China, Mexico, El Salvador or India how cute and cuddly Coca-Cola is. Don’t believe me? Check out this website: http://killercoke.org

Coca-Cola’s first salvo with their CAW employees was to file for an injunction for those engaging in strike activities “to cease and desist from blockading, obstructing or impeding access or egress of any person or vehicle” from any of their premises. Coca-Cola employees must now follow a set of guidelines as to how they can picket and when the activities can take place as set out this week by an Ontario Superior Court judge.

“We recognize the importance of offering competitive compensation and benefits to our employees and their families, we know that’s the right thing to do,” said company spokesperson Erika Mozes. “But we also have to look at our operations, and how we can insure that they are in line with what our shareholders are looking for as well.”

If you ask me, that is a fancy way of saying that although they know they should treat workers with respect, it’s okay to rob Peter (CAW Members) in order to pay Paul (shareholders) because all Paul really cares about is lining his pockets through profit margin.

Company officials said the strike called by the union is “completely unnecessary” and that they are committed to an agreement that’s “fair and equitable to all”. Not sure about you, but I think a company with a $9 BILLION profit margin might want to reconsider their understanding of what is fair and equitable when asking their employees to make concessions.

As for a strike being “completely unnecessary” consider that Coca-Cola has barely even been at the negotiating table unless you consider 39 out of a total of 160 hours over the course of 12 days as putting in an effort. It seems more accurate that Coca-Cola is trying to break the union by locking them out and ignoring them.

As I sit here in my home, on my holidays, lamenting the fact that I can’t get all of the chores I designed to finish, I feel selfish. My heart goes out to the members of CAW Local 973. This year they will have no holiday. They will fight a corporate giant for all Canadians. If you cannot join CAW Local 973 on the picket lines, you can still play your part by avoiding all Coca-Cola products until they can learn to treat employees with respect.

originally published July 10 2013 at cupe2544.ca

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