Unionized Coca-Cola employees, from left to right, Rodney Mindel, Ron McLean and Scott James on the picket line outside the Chilliwack distribution plant on Yale Road West Wednesday afternoon. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

UPDATE: Coke workers on strike in Chilliwack, Coquitlam and Richmond

Shortages of Coca-Cola products starting to appear throughout the Lower Mainland

If you are thinking of buying the world a Coke, you better get to stores fast.

With 370 unionized workers on strike at four Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada warehouses and production facilities in the Lower Mainland, shortages, or at least inconsistent supply, of the soft drink products are expected.

Talks that have been on since March over contract language regarding health and welfare, as well as an issue with changes to pensions, broke off between the company and Teamsters Local 213, which represents workers in Richmond, Coquitlam, Chilliwack and on the Sunshine Coast.

“We don’t want to give up our defined benefits,” said Jim Loyst, business representative for Teamsters Local 213.

Workers have been on the picket line at the Chilliwack bottling plant and distribution centre for more than a week.

Stores in some locations are starting to see shortages, and Safeway posted a sign to customers regarding the labour dispute.

“The supply from Coke is not available consistently at the moment throughout the Lower Mainland,” according to a notice on the mostly fully-stocked shelves at the Chilliwack Safeway last week.

By Aug. 2, stock at Safeway downtown was still relatively full but at the Save-On less than half the Coke-product shelving was full.

Work is still being done at the facilities by non-unionized support staff and administrators, according to the company.

The union, however, has some suspicions that illegal workers are being used.

“We can’t confirm the company is using illegal workers under the labour code, however, we have concerns,” Loyst said. “The reason we can’t confirm is because when they bring workers in in to the locations they use vans with all blacked-out windows, and there are more workers coming into the sites than what there are normal supervisors. So we are obviously reviewing that.”

He added the issue is causing frustration on the picket line as trucks leave and unionized workers see drivers they don’t recognize.

“It does create a conflict, holding vehicles up,” he said.

In a statement provided by the company, it said despite months of negotiations and several mediation sessions, the union chose to stop negotiating and go on strike.

Loyst said they had met 17 times and had four days of mediation, but things were narrowed down to the two major issues.

In the Coca-Cola statement, the company said the proposal is in line with agreements reached in other facilities.

“While we would have preferred to reach an agreement at the bargaining table, we respect the union’s right to strike. We hope the union respects our obligation to continue to meet our customer needs during the strike, which at this time is our primary focus. Comprehensive contingency planning has been underway for months to address this possibility and we are continuing to service our customers.

“We remain committed to the collective bargaining process, and are prepared to return to the bargaining table to successfully conclude negotiations and reach a new collective agreement.”


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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Coca-Cola shelves at Chilliwack grocery stores were still well-stocked on July 26 but just two days into a strike at the distribution plants, shortages may be coming. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

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