OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Some workers at the Jackson County Coca-Cola bottling company went on strike Thursday morning. Strikers say they felt compelled to do so by what they call unfair labor practices by the new company that took over their branch in October of last year.
Three other branches in Alabama walked off the job Thursday as well.
"As long as it takes. We've got shifts going on right now. I've been out here since 2 o'clock this morning," said Coca-Cola worker Donald Nobles.
On a regular workday, they are distributing Coca-Cola products to customers throughout South Mississippi. But on this day, these men, all part of a union in the company called Teamsters Local 991, are staged outside their place of employment as workers from out of town cover their shifts.
"A new company that just bought us in October is trying to change certain job titles that we have and change the pay scale to it which would eliminate some of our seniority without taking pay cuts," said Bobby Kovacevich.
Bulk delivery driver Bobby Kovacevich said Coca-Cola Bottling Company United out of Alabama bought this branch last October. Now their contracts are up for renewal, and he said the new company's contract threatens the amount of money they have been earning, their seniority and bidding rights on certain jobs.
"In a union, you go by seniority on jobs you want to take, and if another route comes open on a job I wanna take, depending on which one it is, I might have to take a lower pay then what the guy is doing it now is taking. The previous company, everyone was on the same pay scale," said Kovacevich.
This strike is one of four others happening in the company. The others are at branches all located in South Alabama.
"I feel that it's important for me to fight for the future of this company," Nobles said while holding a sign just outside the Ocean Springs location.
While they agree Coca-Cola is a good company to work for, the most recent contract on the table is not.
"I hope that we can settle it and come to some kind of agreement where we feel appreciated for what we do, and the company takes care of us for the job that we've done," said Kovacevich.
Union officials said the union and United will meet with a federal mediator Monday.
"We got jobs right now that are doing the same pay that we negotiated over the 50 years of this negotiation with the union, and they are just coming. And they are trying to change job titles and job functions to where they can change our pay scale with it," Kovacevich said.
Coca-Cola UNITED issued this statement Thursday regarding the strike:
"Despite Coca-Cola UNITED's good faith effort to negotiate a new labor contract, Teamsters Local 9-9-1 leaders, unwilling to come to an agreement, have called a strike as of today, August 9th. Coca-Cola facilities in Mobile, Leroy, Robertsdale (AL) and Ocean Springs, (MS) continue to operate. Coca-Cola UNITED has activated a business continuity plan to assure customers continue to receive the product delivery and service they expect."