Teamsters set to defend jobs in distribution

The Teamsters union said Coca-Cola Co.'s (KO) plans to buy the North American business of bottler Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) could bring big changes in distribution to retailers like 7-Eleven and cut thousands of jobs in the soft drink industry in North America.

On a conference call for Coke shareholders and analysts, union representatives said Coca-Cola has contemplated using third-party logistics companies in a move to restructure distribution.

The Teamsters union, which says it represents about 15,000 employees involved in the production and distribution of Coca-Cola products in North America, says distribution changes could add unnecessary steps in a distribution system.

Those proposals threaten Teamster jobs and are a potential "fiasco," Teamsters officials said on a Friday morning conference call. "These changes are monumental," said David Laughton, director of the union's brewery and soft drink workers conference. "Management seems, unfortunately, rigidly locked into a new form of distribution. While nobody wants a work stoppage, we will fight for our jobs."

"Our plan is to resolve this amicably across the table," said Laughton, adding that a work stoppage is a "last resort." During 2010, 55 bargaining agreements between CCE and unions are set to expire.