CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Employees at the Pepsi Beverage plant in Huntington unanimously rejected a contract offer that they said would strip them of some of their longstanding benefits.
Ralph Winters, secretary-treasurer of Local 175 based in South Charleston, said the contract offer was an attempt by Pepsi to retaliate against them for choosing union representation. Under the proposed contract, the company denied the workers, who joined the Teamsters about a year ago, nearly $2,000 worth of benefits they currently receive.
"It's unfortunate the company has chosen to single out this group," Winters said on Friday. Winters said that company threats of retaliation for joining the union began last summer and continued during contract negotiations.
"Workers voted 39-0 to reject the contract last week, and now Pepsi is trying to intimidate them by advertising to hire their job replacements," Winters said.
Local 175 represents Huntington's warehouse workers, bulk drivers, merchandisers and customer service representatives as well as workers at three other Pepsi facilities in West Virginia.
"Every one of those contracts protects workers' retirement benefits. Huntington workers' deserve the same," Winters said.
Gina Anderson, a spokeswoman for PepsiCo North America Beverages, said that the contract offer was comparable to their contracts with Teamsters everywhere.
"The offer we've made is consistent with other Teamster arrangements across the country," Anderson said. "Similar provisions exist in our labor agreements in Charleston, Fairmont and Logan, where Local 175 represents employees. Those three locations prioritized a restricted workweek over enhanced retirement benefits and our Huntington employees have the opportunity to do the same."
David Laughton, director of the Teamsters Brewery and Soft Drink Conference, said his group is committed to backing the Pepsi Beverage workers in Huntington.
"Whatever they need, we'll provide. The Teamsters represent 12,000 Pepsi members nationwide. We're not going to stand by and allow a company to target a facility so it can undermine the standards our members have worked decades to build," Laughton said.
Ken Hall, president of Local 175 and general secretary-treasurer of the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said, "The Teamsters are not going to be intimidated by these games. We will take this dispute across the country because we're not going to let the company single out this group of workers."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.