Despite civic attempts to beautify downtown L.A., there comes a boundary near its industrial core where the effort stops and the palms and jacarandas end. The Coca-Cola bottling plant on Central Avenue and 14th Street sits in the middle of that desolate area and is the site of picketing against the company by the Teamsters. Last week, on the second day of the union’s strike, job applicants sent over from temp agencies drifted into Coke’s personnel office while a cacophony of car and truck horns serenaded about 50 picketers stretched along the two-block-long complex of buildings. A tractor-trailer made some awkward attempts to negotiate a right-hand turn into the main delivery gate, before the driver got spooked and drove off. “This morning, one scab truck hit the gate and another spilled a load of concentrate barrels in the street,” said Jim Andric, a strike captain monitoring the gate. “[The company] said it was just an accident and let the drivers go.” “If that was one of us,” a woman sitting nearby said, “they’d send us out for a drug test and suspend us three days.” The four affected locals represent drivers, warehouse workers and bottlers. On Monday, images of the picket lines flashed across local TV screens as news programs briefly reported on the strike, even though the Teamsters’ signs clearly said, “Locked Out.” According to Andric, Coke dismissed warehouse workers in Victorville and lab technicians in Downey when they showed up for work Sunday. Declaring the union locked out, the Teamsters formally struck at 3 a.m. Monday. Union jobs are currently being filled by supervisors, temps and Coke managers, who, Andric said, are being flown in from as far away as Denver and Nogales. Bob Phillips, a spokesman for Coca-Cola of Southern California, disputed the lockout account, claiming that, when only handfuls of workers reported for work Monday morning, the company realized the strike was on and sent them home with full pay. In a now familiar pattern, the heart of the negotiations for a new five-year contract, the previous one having expired in April, involves medical and pension issues. A company letter distributed to union employees says Coke is offering an 80-cent-an-hour raise for the first three years, followed by 85-cent increases for the remaining two. The sticking point, say the Teamsters, is that Coke wants to draw 70 cents from those hourly raises to fund employee health care. One veteran warehouseman, who wished to be identified only as Escobar, said he had been with the company 38 years and had been through the three-week Coke strike of 1969. “They gave us a $1-an-hour raise in 1969,” Escobar said. “In this year, they’re offering 80 cents — do you know how much gas cost in 1969?” Phillips, who declined to give details about the talks, except to say that agreement is very close, said that informal conversations between the company and the Teamsters are continuing. He also said the company has been prepared for months for a strike. Opinions are mixed on how long the walkout could last. “You never know,” Local 848 president Jim Santangelo said. “It could go on for 12 weeks. We just settled with Diamond Walnuts, and that lasted 14 years.”

LA Weekly