Under ordinary circumstances, a strike authorization vote by just six people should not have required the use of the large auditorium at the Teamsters Union Hall, nor would it require representatives from four different Teamsters Local Unions to be in attendance. But as Swire Coca-Cola attempts to force a substandard contract onto six ‘checkers’ – employees who inspect pallets of product for accuracy before they are sent out and when they are returned – we find that these are not ordinary circumstances.
In addition to the six checkers, Swire Coca-Cola (Swire) also employs hundreds of Teamsters from Locals 174, 117, 313, and 589 throughout the Pacific Northwest. These workers were invited to attend the checkers’ strike authorization vote yesterday morning, and they showed up in force to stand in solidarity with their fellow Teamsters.
At the meeting, they heard about their employer’s proposed bargaining takeaways. These included an outrageously unacceptable proposed Management Rights clause that would have left the checkers powerless to do anything about meaningful changes to their working conditions. Swire had also proposed wage increases that would have left the checkers even farther behind their fellow Swire Teamsters, who are working different job classifications in the warehouse for up to $7 an hour more than the checkers are paid.
Swire checkers shop steward and Bargaining Committee member Tyson Baker laid it out clearly to the assembled group: “They aren’t negotiating with us – they’re just trying to dictate what this contract is going to be. Well, we’re Teamsters. We don’t take dictation!” he announced at the meeting. “Swire needs to negotiate, not dictate!” he concluded, to applause.
Local 174 Senior Business Agent Tim Allen agreed with Baker’s assessment. “This company believes that they can walk all over these checkers because there’s only six of them. Are we going to let them do that?” The massive crowd of co-workers there in a tremendous show of solidarity made clear that they were not going to stand back and let the checkers be bullied into accepting an inferior contract.
As the meeting wrapped up, stickers were handed out to all the Teamsters in the room, with the request to wear them to work the next day in a display of solidarity to their employer. Today, those stickers were worn by Teamsters from all four Local Unions throughout the Pacific Northwest. The stickers read “YOU MESS WITH OUR CHECKERS, YOU MESS WITH US.”
“Solidarity is what wins battles for us, and in this case solidarity will win the day yet again,” said Teamsters Local 174 Secretary-Treasurer Rick Hicks. “This company wants to divide us, to break us apart into little groups in the hope that we will be too focused on our own problems to stand up and help each other. Yesterday’s meeting and today’s job action show clearly that they were wrong – we will stand together, and we will support every single Teamster that needs it – whether it’s a group of 5,000 people or a group of six like these checkers.”
Additional negotiations between Teamsters Local 174 and Swire will be happening in two weeks. “Our hope is that this unanimous strike authorization vote and strong show of solidarity will get Swire to back down from these unacceptable proposals and come to the bargaining table ready to actually negotiate a contract,” Hicks continued. “But if not, we hope they realize that they are going to have a much larger problem than just six people.”
In the event of a strike by the checkers, the other Swire Teamsters’ contracts give them the right to honor a picket line after 72 hours. This means that if the checkers walk off the job, production and delivery of Coca-Cola products could conceivably be shut down within a few days.
Founded in 1909, Teamsters Local 174 represents 7,200 working men and women in the Seattle area. “Like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TeamstersLocal174.