Striking Coca-Cola workers return to work



Posted on August 31, 2010 at 2:37 PM

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- It's back to work and back to the bargaining table for 500 striking Coca-Cola employees in Western Washington.

Issues over health care prompted a week-long strike, but the Teamster union agreed to put down their picket signs and return to work Tuesday unconditionally. Now, a new issue's bubbled to the surface.

Before sunrise Tuesday, Coca-Cola workers gathered anxiously, wondering if they still had a job after hitting the picket lines a week ago.

"Everyone's back in there and frankly excited to be in there," said Tracey Thompson, Coca-Cola employee and union officer at the Bellevue plant.

Thompson expressed a new concern: Even though Teamsters were back to work, their replacements were still on the job.

KING 5's cameras were rolling as shuttles dropped off replacements, many whom are Coca-Cola managers from across the country.

It was an unusual sight to see union drivers riding side-by-side with out-of-state managers on the day's routes.

"It's a little worrisome because we've taken the company at their word that they're going to bargain at good faith with us," said Thompson. "Holding onto those replacement workers seems to send a different message."

According to Coca-Cola spokesman Bob Phillips, these replacements will continue to work for the next couple of days. Philips say it's to ensure a smooth transition and that there's no disruption in customer service.

Coca-Cola stresses it does not engage nor tolerate intimidation.

"I'm going to remain hopeful. I hear they want to continue servicing their customers. I'll leave it at that for now," said Thompson.

Both sides will resume contract negotiations Wednesday and Thursday.
Contract talks have been under way since April. The employees' contract expired May 15.

The union represents Coke workers in Aberdeen, Bellevue, Bremerton, Fife, Marysville and Tacoma.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.