NEW YORK, April 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Hundreds of Teamsters, joined by environmental, human rights and student activists, gathered in New York's Times Square today to protest job and health care cuts, and increasing worker and environmental abuses by Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) and its largest bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises (NYSE: CCE). With numerous CCE contract negotiations still unresolved across the country, the Teamsters Union declared it is putting Coke on notice to address its worker abuses or face possible job actions, which could include wide- ranging strikes and accompanying service disruptions. "Coke is discriminating against union workers, cutting health care benefits and risking American families' futures," said Jack Cipriani, Director of the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Workers Conference. "Coke has essentially declared war on workers here in the United States and around the world, and the Teamsters will not stand for it. We are putting Coke on notice today that it must clean up its act." CCE recently announced plans to eliminate good-paying U.S. jobs in a potentially massive restructuring that could mean job losses and cuts in workers' benefits. "With the restructuring that Coke is doing, I am concerned that my family's health care may be cut and that my job could be at risk," said Joe Fajardo, an Iraq war Navy veteran and 13-year Coke worker in California. Fajardo recently applied to work at Coke's new nonunion distribution plant in Southern California, but it became clear the company preferred lower-paid workers without union benefits and job protections. "After having served our country, my time now needs to be spent taking care of my family," Fajardo said. "Coke wasn't going to let me be a Teamster and do that." The Teamsters Union represents more than 14,000 Coca-Cola and CCE employees in the United States and Canada. The union has joined with Coke and CCE unions worldwide in demanding that the company agree to a global workers' rights agreement that would include independent monitoring and oversight. "We want Coca-Cola to stop cutting costs on the backs of workers by slashing employment, pay and pension benefits in order to compensate for poor management and short-sighted planning," said Paul Garver, a leader with the International Union of Food Workers. Today's Times Square rally follows a wave of Teamster protests against the country, including leafleting at the Powerade Drag Racing Series in California, Florida and Texas, and rallies at NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament games, where the union urged the NCAA to drop Coke's high-dollar sponsorship. Coke is paying the NCAA $500 million in an 11-year beverage marketing and media rights deal reached in 2002. All Teamster Coke workers are wearing buttons today that read "Tell Coke Every Worker Counts." And students on more than 70 campuses nationwide also are handing out leaflets to bring attention to Coke's worker rights and environmental abuses. Cipriani said that Coke's abuses as a corporate polluter and violator of human rights "are hitting critical mass." He cited concerns about Coca-Cola's destruction of natural resources in developing countries, as well as its worker and human rights abuses in the United States and abroad. Coke is facing a lawsuit for allegedly allowing death squads in Colombia to murder eight pro- union employees. "It's time to put the brakes on Coca-Cola before more workers and communities are hurt," Cipriani said. "Coke's management is making misguided decisions that are letting down its workers and risking the company's future." Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking women and men throughout the United States and Canada.
SOURCE International Brotherhood of Teamsters