Coke goes flat with Teamsters, students

“Our union brothers and sisters at Coca-Cola bottling facilities in Colombia have been threatened, kidnapped, tortured and murdered,” said Jim Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters union. Hoffa called for the company to negotiate a global human rights agreement that will “protect the rights and safety of those who produce, package and distribute Coca-Cola products.”

Responding to a growing international campaign spearheaded by United Students Against Sweatshops, delegates to the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Workers Conference authorized its leadership to seek a just resolution of the dispute between Coke and human rights groups.

Katishi Masemola, general secretary of South Africa’s Food and Allied Workers Union, which represents 6,000 Coke workers at three South Africa bottling plants, was a guest at the conference. He pledged his union’s cooperation in the conference’s efforts “towards concrete solutions to these human indignities. No worker should have to endure the abuse that our fellow workers in Colombia have had,” said Katishi.

United Students Against Sweatshops has charged that Coca-Cola has supported paramilitary groups in Colombia in terrorizing union members and leaders.

“Coca-Cola’s refusal to take the students seriously is having a direct impact on the company, its reputation and the Teamsters who service university contracts,” said Joe Wojciechowski, president of IBT Local 812, which represents nearly 2,000 Coca-Cola workers in New York. Twenty university campuses have banned Coke as a result of the USAS campaign.

Dennis Hart, Western regional representative for the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Conference, spoke at a USAS meeting in Oakland on Feb. 11, updating students on working conditions of Coke workers in the U.S.