May 22, 2018 3:15 PM, EDT

Dr Pepper Deliveries in Critical Condition With Chicago Strike

Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News

More than 150 Teamsters walked off the job in suburban Chicago early May 22 after a wage dispute with a Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc. subsidiary.

Soft drink delivery drivers went on strike against the American Bottling Co., seeking to hold up deliveries ahead of Memorial Day weekend. The action comes three weeks after the drivers’ previous labor agreement expired and two days after they overwhelmingly rejected the company’s “last, best and final offer,” a union official told Bloomberg Law.

The drivers are represented by Local 727 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

“These members feel like they’ve been disrespected for years and years,” Local 727 business agent Caleen Carter-Patton said.

“The big issue is wages. They have been paid 10% below people doing the exact same job working for a competitor. Coke and Pepsi drivers make at least 10% more.”

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A company official said Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper was disappointed with the union’s decision to strike. Management has bargained in good faith during 15 negotiating sessions over the past two months and treated employees “with the utmost respect,” the official said.

“A strike is good for no one — not our employees, their families, our customers, our business or our community,” company spokesman Chris Barnes said in an e-mail message. “We are committed to continue bargaining with the union in good faith in an attempt to resolve our differences at the table, and we hope the union will do likewise. The door is open for them.”

Barnes added that “strike contingency plans” have been implemented to ensure that customers continue to receive Dr Pepper products.

Wage Gap With Coke, Pepsi Drivers

Dr Pepper drivers earn $21.80 per hour, compared with about $23.90 for Coke drivers and $23.95 for Pepsi drivers, Carter-Patton said. The company’s final offer featured annual wage increases of approximately 2% over four years.

The union has filed six unfair labor practices charges in recent weeks with the National Labor Relations Board. Among other things, they allege that the company retaliated against drivers for engaging in protected activity, denied workers access to union representatives during discipline, and failed to bargain in good faith, Carter-Patton said. Additional charges will be filed shortly, she said.

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Drivers won’t return to their jobs until a final settlement is reached with the soft drink company, Carter-Patton said.

However, no talks are scheduled between the union and management. The strike is hampering operations at two Dr Pepper distribution facilities in the Chicago suburbs. Carter-Patton noted that approximately 20 replacement drivers have been brought in by the company.

“We do know they’ve had a hard time getting product out today,” she said. “We’ve heard stories, and we’re taking pictures of what’s happening on the road. One of the scab drivers hit a viaduct and ripped off the top of a truck. So it doesn’t seem like its going well for them.”