Coca-Cola workers authorize strike at plants in Chicago

Workers at two Chicago-area Coca-Cola plants organized by the IUF-affiliated Teamsters have voted to authorize a strike against the beverage giant to protest unfair labor practices in the final days of negotiations for a new three-year contract.

Members of Teamsters Local 727 could head to the picket line as early as December 2, 2015 morning after their contract with Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Refreshments expires at midnight Tuesday. The union represents 319 production and warehouse workers who manufacture and bottle Coke's line of beverage products at plants in Niles and Alsip.

Sunday night's strike vote came less than a week after the union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging Coke engaged in bad-faith bargaining and intimidated workers with baseball bats.

"To avert a strike, we would need Coca-Cola to start bargaining in good faith," said Will Petty, communications director for Teamsters Joint Council 25, of which Local 727 is an affiliate.

Of the 249 members who participated in the strike authorization vote, 226 voted for it and 23 against, Petty said.

The negotiating parties met for the 10th time on November 30, 2015 after several all-day sessions during which "Coke was just delaying and wasting time rather than trying to find common ground," Petty said.

Most of the unfair labor practice charges filed November 24 stem from such "surface bargaining," which includes delay tactics and insisting on unreasonable proposals, though the union also alleges the company threatened employees with job loss for engaging with the union and says managers were "walking the shop floors with baseball bats casually in hand, talking to members about ongoing negotiations," Petty said.

"Workers felt intimidated by that because it was happening in the workplace," he said.

The union is negotiating for higher wages, better health care and retirement benefits, as well as scheduling and overtime issues, Petty said.He added that historically the Teamsters and the beverage industry have had a good working relationship and "there is no reason the members shouldn't be able to share in the growth of the industry."