The Coca-Cola Co. is opening all the spigots to keep the corporate-owned Fort
Worth bottling plant from becoming its only unionized facility in the South.
If a majority of voting employees cast ballots to join Teamsters Local 997 on Wednesday, it could flag an important victory by organized labor over the soft drinks giant. Some 427 workers would be covered.
"It would be earth-shattering," said Ben Speight, a Teamsters organizer in Atlanta, the home of Coke's headquarters where the union failed in an election last year at three area plants. A similar move to unionize was defeated in Richmond, Va.
But success in Fort Worth, Speight said, "would send a ray of hope to the region that it's possible to overcome Coke's pressure tactics."
Locally, it would be a rare victory this year for unions.
Other unions have suffered setbacks, including striking machinists at Lockheed Martin who failed to keep pensions for new hires despite a 10-week walkout, and American Airlines pilots who will have their contract vaporized in bankruptcy proceedings for the carrier's corporate parent, AMR Corp.
The South, including Texas, has seldom been fertile ground for unions. Coupled with attractive operating costs and plentiful tax incentives, the region's "right to work" laws -- meaning all employees are not required to be represented by a union -- have lured employers from traditionally strong union areas in the North and Midwest.
Among other things, Coke's pro-union workers are seeking better pay, an end to what they consider favoritism in promotion and shift assignments, lower-cost health plans, better job security, time-and-a-half overtime pay, fewer temporary workers and less outsourcing. They turned to Teamsters Local 997, which represents drivers at Miller-Coors and Bimbo Bakeries.
The organizing effort at Coke's sprawling Fossil Creek complex at I-35 and I-820 has been countered by a series of weekly mandatory meetings by management. Production workers attend on company time and the sessions -- some in English, others in Spanish -- feature outsourced labor consultants. This is not the union's first rodeo in Fort Worth.
It called off a June 9, 2011, vote after discovering that roughly a third of eligible workers had been overlooked and, therefore, hadn't been canvassed. To defeat that unionizing effort, Department of Labor filings show Coke paid $213,752 to consultants from the San Clemente, Calif.-based Crossroads Group, and they were effective.
Clearly, many workers would have voted against the union last year, even union supporters acknowledge.
"Give us 12 months and we'll fix the problems here," workers say the plant's manager, Terry Ford, told them at employee meetings. And there were one-on-one sessions where employees were asked what needed to be done to improve conditions.
Afterward, some employees said, 'Let's give them a year and see if they do fix things and we won't have to pay union dues," recalled one pro-union worker, Jose Fernando Ramos, 36.
TVS in break rooms
Large flat-screen TVs were put in break rooms, bathrooms were refurbished and Coke gave out pay raises of 2.25 percent.
But healthcare options changed and the deductibles increased so sharply that truck driver Gary Smitherman says he no longer sends his family to the
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