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Great Lakes Coca-Cola Teamsters fight for safety measures and hazard pay

By Jacob Flom

Milwaukee, WI – A wave of worker activity has sprung up in the past two weeks as the slow government and employer response to COVID-19 has thrown millions of workers into dangerous working conditions. Workers have organized petitions, walkouts and sickouts at dozens of workplaces this week, demanding safe working conditions and hazard pay for essential workers during the pandemic.

In response to the wave of worker activity, many companies have begun to offer hazard pay, increased time-off benefits and new safety measures. Warehouse and distribution workers on the frontlines have been leading workplace actions and winning demands. Workers at Great Lakes Coca-Cola Distribution Inc., which operates in several Midwestern states, are fighting for better sick-time policies, hazard pay, assistance for childcare and other policies to keep workers safe.

Teamsters Local 344, which represents Great Lakes Coca-Cola workers in Wisconsin, says the company continues to discipline employees who call out due to COVID-19, and has not fulfilled information requests regarding safety measures the company is taking to protect employees.

Secretary-Treasurer Bill Carroll said the company has “yet to provide any useful response as to what measures they are taking to reduce the risk of our members getting or spreading infection.” Teamsters Local 727 in Illinois also blasted Great Lakes Coca-Cola, calling them a “greedy, anti-worker corporate bully,” saying the company “once again picked profit over people.”

Coca-Cola's leading competitor, Pepsico, is one of many companies that has provided an increase in pay and benefits to employees since the wave of worker activity began. Teamsters are asking Great Lakes Coca-Cola to match competitors who have provided up to a 20% hazard pay bonus and improved safety measures, but so far Great Lakes Coca-Cola has not done so. Instead of offering hazard pay, Great Lakes Coca-Cola proposed a weekly lump sum bonus of $100 if workers show up consistently and do not call in sick.

“This misguided policy would incentivize employees to come to work sick, which contradicts the recommendations put out by government and health authorities,” said Local 344 Business Agent Kevin Schwerdtfeger.

Teamsters are taking the fight beyond the warehouse and going public, asking supporters to call Great Lakes Coca-Cola management at 847-653-0784 and tell them to prioritize worker safety over profits.

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