Published: 16/12/2011

PepsiCo has found yet another way of reaching into workers’ pockets under the pretext to “enable our associates and their families to live healthier lifestyles”.

As the New York Post reported, PepsiCo workers in upstate New York are fighting a $50-a-month levy imposed by the company on workers who smoke. The workers, members of IUF affiliate Teamsters filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board last month seeking information surrounding the health plan so they can look for a better deal. The union locals filing the action also serve workers in Binghamton, Syracuse and Utica bottling plants.

So far, PepsiCo has declined to provide such information. The plan was changed in February without informing workers. Since then, PepsiCo started charging workers in its recently acquired bottling division $50 a month if they smoke.

“They never told us that they were going to a different plan for employees,” said Bob Firmstone, secretary/treasurer of Teamsters Local 693.
Members had informed him about the new sin charge last spring.

Stephen Hicks, union steward in a Pepsi plant in Latham, NY, smokes one to two packs of cigarettes a day and is paying the $50-a-month penalty. “I can understand the penalty to a degree,” he said. “But we pay enough as it is. I believe if we can get better pricing and benefits, we can toss this plan out.”

While there is a national trend to charge smokers more for health care, this is almost always negotiated with unions when worker contracts expire, a national health-benefits lawyer who requested anonymity said.

But at PepsiCo, management obviously has decided they know best themselves what is good for workers, and take the right to ignore their agreement with unions. The real issue therefore is not healthier styles of living, but a healthier attitude to workers’ right to union representation.