Coke employees agree to return to work

SEATTLE — The 500 western Washington Coca-Cola employees who went on strike at 5 p.m., Aug 23, which includes 37 workers in Marysville, have agreed to return to work unconditionally, as part of "a goodwill gesture that demonstrates their willingness to bargain a fair and equitable contract in good faith," according to a statement issued by Teamsters Local 117.

Bob Phillips, vice president of public affairs for Coca-Cola, confirmed that the offer was made and that Coca-Cola had accepted it.

Negotiations between the Washington Teamsters United and Coca-Cola are set to resume Sept. 1 and 2.

"Over the last week, we have demonstrated to Coke the value of our professionalism and our labor," said Blaine Parks, a 32-year driver for Coca-Cola's production and distribution facility in Bellevue. "We have also sent a strong message to Coke that its employees expect that company take the collective bargaining process seriously."

Union representatives expect the 500 area Coca-Cola employees will resume normal operations the morning of Aug. 31 to catch up with the backlog created by the previous week's work stoppage.

"The company is working with the union to transition the workers back into their jobs," Phillips said. "It might take a few days. We're looking forward to returning to the table as previously scheduled and we're hopeful that the union is prepared to discuss all the issues. In light of the current economic environment and our operating costs, we're eager to reach a fair an equitable agreement with the union."

"We are optimistic that Coke will return to negotiations prepared to bargain in good faith," said Tracey A. Thompson, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 117 and chief negotiator for Washington Teamsters United. "Issues like the health care for Coke employees and retirees are too important to our members and their families not to address in a straightforward and forthright manner."

According to the union, it will continue to pursue the unfair labor practice charges it brought against Coca-Cola before the National Labor Relations Board, as well as the class-action federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act lawsuit on behalf of Coca-Cola employees who had their health care benefits revoked by the company shortly after the work stoppage began Aug. 23.

Approximately 500 Coca-Cola employees in western Washington went on strike Aug. 23, over charges of employee surveillance, intimidation and bad faith bargaining. Contract negotiations between the union and Coca-Cola have been underway since April and the employees' contract expired on May 15.

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