The Guardian September 13, 2000


Community solidarity wins Pepsi strike

by Erwin Marquit

MINNEAPOLIS: Thanks to labour-community solidarity, members of Teamsters 
Local 792 ended their 79-day strike on August 28 with a victory over the 
Pepsi Bottling Group that serves the twin-cities area of Minneapolis and St 
Paul.

By a vote of 257 to 114, the workers accepted a new contract that provides 
a 2.7 percent raise in each of its two years, reduction of the retirement 
age with full pension benefits to 55 from 62, increases in pension pay and 
reduction of the amount that retirees must pay for health-care insurance.

Those voting against the agreement wanted to continue the strike until 
Pepsi was ready to match the gains won recently at the Coca-Cola bottling 
plant.

The failure to match the Coke agreement was the reason the union agreed to 
a two-year contract instead of the usual three years.

Dan Boden, Local 792's business agent, told the People's Weekly 
World that he hoped the union would be able to restore parity with Coke 
during their next round of negotiations.

The strategy that developed in the strike was a lesson in the importance of 
labour unity and labour-community solidarity.

Shortly after the strike began, the union issued a call for a boycott of 
Pepsi products and began leafleting and distributing "Boycott Pepsi" 
buttons and balloons at local festivals featuring Pepsi booths.

Local 792 also sponsored radio ads about the strike issues.

Pepsi countered with store subsidies and giveaways and made up for the lost 
production by shipping its products from its bottling plant in Mankato, 
Minn., 80 miles to the south. Mankato production workers, but not drivers, 
are unionised.

Leaders of Local 792 welcomed the formation of a solidarity committee. Some 
25 people from Local 792 leadership and other unions and community groups 
(including a Central America solidarity organisation and the Communist 
Party) met to develop a strategy for winning the strike.

The Community Strike Support Committee laid out a plan for rallies and 
leafleting at the leading supermarkets.

Bill Pearson, President of Local 789 of the United Food and Commercial 
Workers, followed up by sending out letters to the supermarket managers 
urging them to pressure Pepsi to settle.

Two supermarket chains, Rainbow Foods and Cub Foods, take 70 percent of the 
bulk shipments of Pepsi products in the Twin Cities area.

Intervention by the Rainbow Foods management did indeed lead Pepsi to 
resume negotiations broken off after the union rejected Pepsi's "final 
offer".

The solidarity committee began leafleting Cub Foods in Mankato August 23.

Pepsi offered to settle the strike the next day, just two days before a 
major rally scheduled by the solidarity committee in front of the showcase 
store of Cub Foods in its headquarters city of Stillwater.

Twin Cities unions and community groups had planned to bring perhaps 1,000 
supporters to this demonstration.

Pepsi had sent the union attorneys a letter demanding the rally be called 
off, implying that it was in violation of the Taft-Hartley Law ban on 
secondary boycotts. But it was the solidarity committee and not the union 
that was sponsoring the rally.

According to Business Agent Dan Boden, these solidarity actions played a 
key role in winning the strike.

Local 792 Secretary-Treasurer Larry Yoswa was quoted by the Star 
Tribune as saying that "Pepsi has never been beaten anywhere in the US. 
They had never changed a final offer."

This victory in which solidarity actions played a key role is the third 
this year in the Twin Cities area.

Hundreds of union supporters from other unions and community organisations 
guaranteed a successful turnout for a recognition rally called by the 
United Food and Commercial Workers at a cattle-butchering plant in South St 
Paul, despite the fact that management prevented the workers from the 
attending the rally by forced overtime.

Mass protests over Holiday Inn's attempt to use the Immigration and 
Naturalization Service (INS) to deport undocumented workers who supported 
an organising drive by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union 
(HERE) led to an agreement that the INS would not enter situations in which 
there was a labour dispute.

A solidarity committee participated in the organisation of rallies, marches 
and strike support to help HERE win a strike against eight major hotels and 
avoid one at a ninth.

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