With Gustavo Sotelo, of STCC

Antiunion pressures

at Coca-Cola


A year after Coca-Cola Uruguay installed a PET bottle-molding machine in its plant, sparking a conflict with the union, the equipment is not being used at full capacity due to low production caused by inadequate planning. With only a few weeks until the beginning of the high season, the union is calling on management to discuss and solve pending issues. Sirel interviewed union president Gustavo Sotelo to find out more about the situation.


Among the issues that the Union of Coca-Cola Workers (STCC) wishes to discuss with Montevideo Refrescos is an incident that occurred a few days ago, when several workers were subtly intimidated after they expressed their intention to join the union. Another issue that has not been resolved yet, and which has been brought before the Labor and Social Security Ministry, is the question of the number of workers that are assigned per delivery truck.


-Right now you're dealing with a conflict situation in the pre-sales section. How did the problem start?

-About a week ago, five women workers from the pre-sales telephone service requested a meeting with us with a view to joining the union, and we scheduled it for Saturday, Oct. 2. The section supervisor apparently got hold of this information, and, even though he never comes into work on Saturdays, he called the workers to a meeting with him on the same Saturday and at the same time as ours.


The workers immediately came to us. They were worried, nervous, and outraged. Although the supervisor took care not to speak against the union, he firmly told them to "think very carefully before they acted," and made other intimidating remarks, attacking freedom of association. The workers, however, refused to be intimidated and went ahead with their union meeting.


On Monday, Oct. 4, an assembly meeting was convened at 10 a.m. to give all pre-sales employees working outside the plant a report on the situation. The assembly meeting went on until 5 p.m., with a work stoppage and picket line at the factory gate. It was further decided that a letter of repudiation against pressures from management would be drafted and delivered to the human resources manager. Since the union measures taken included a work stoppage, the situation was referred to the Labor and Social Security Ministry.


-The company is also breaching another agreement.

-There's an internal system for deliveries that operates with two categories of workers: drivers and assistants. Each delivery truck is typically appointed one driver and two assistants. While there's no express written agreement that says trucks have to be staffed that way, the company has always accepted it. But now it has assigned five drivers and only five assistants. This situation has led us to take other measures, and we've sought out the Labor Ministry's mediation.


-What happened then?

-With respect to the antiunion incident involving the pre-sales supervisor, following a negotiation, the company has agreed to draft a letter that will be posted on every bulletin board, in which management clearly states that Coca-Cola does not have an antiunion policy. The letter must be signed by management and, in particular, by the human resource manager. The content of the letter will be drafted jointly by the lawyers of both parties.


As for the delivery truck conflict, we're having a meeting today at the Ministry to consider the company's proposal to do without one of the five drivers who were convened. The Union proposes that for the time being all five drivers be appointed, along with eight assistants, and to gradually bring in additional employees over the coming months, according to the needs that arise during the high season.


-You also had a Delegates Congress recently.

-Yes, the Delegates Congress mandated the Union to solve several issues that have been on the table for the past four months. It's clear that the company is stalling in the hope of wearing us down. But the Delegates Congress determined that we must solve 11 pending issues and an economic matter, which our advisors are working on. The company generally makes major changes only during the low season, when the warehouses are well stocked. Still Congress decided to call a state of alert in order to solve all unresolved matters before the start of the high season.


-There's also concern over production levels.

-That's right. In October 2009 there was a conflict over the introduction of a PET bottle-molding machine, but this machine has not delivered the promised output. The machine is practically untouched; it can put out millions of bottles, but it's not operating at full capacity because the volume of beverage being produced is very low. It's incredible that we had a conflict over introducing a machine that's now in the plant but is not working because we're not producing enough.


The union has compromised on many issues in order to protect jobs. But production is being managed in such a way that it goes against our goal of protecting jobs. Our union and our work stoppages are often blamed for the plant's low output, but the problem really lies in the heads of production and maintenance who fail in their planning and management duties.




From Montevideo, Beatriz Sosa Martínez


October 8, 2010






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