In addition to drying the mouths of Coke lovers across campus, the University’s suspension of Coca-Cola products will likely have an impact on regional Coca-Cola employees.

Sarah Royce
Coca-Cola truck driver Gordie Johnston says Michigan workers could be affected by the University suspending its contracts with the soft-drink giant. (JUSTIN BASS/Daily)

Responding to pressure from campus activist groups that allege the company has committed civil rights and environmental injustices in India and Colombia, the University decided last month to temporarily suspend its contracts with the company.

The University’s supply of the beverage is bottled at a plant in Detroit and distributed across Southeast Michigan by way of a distribution center in Van Buren.

The University purchases over 80,000 cases of Coke products each year, according to Percy Wells, spokesman for Michigan’s Coca-Cola bottling company.

The total yearly bill comes out to about $1.4 million.

Wells said the decrease in sales resulting from the contract suspension will have an immediate impact on the bottling company.

“The decision only affects Michigan jobs, Michigan workers and local Michigan families,” Wells said.

Gordie Johnston, a Coca-Cola truck driver, said he believes jobs will be affected over the long term if the contract is not renewed.

“When (students) are at full swing, they go through a lot of pop,” he said.

Coke sells syrup to independent bottling plants, which then produce and distribute the cola.

“Coca-Cola does not sell or distribute anything in North America,” Wells said. “It’s distributed by local bottlers.”

Michigan’s bottling company employs about 2,000 people, 64 percent of whom are unionized.

The local union, called Teamsters Local 337, boasts a membership of about 560.

Delivery workers are entirely unionized and the commission sales staff is non-union.

According to Wells, employees come from all walks of life and include college students, urbanites, blue-collar and white-collar workers.

“Everyone needs a job, no matter what position they are working in,” he said.

In addition to bottlers working at the plant, the loss of sales could affect everyone from salaried salespeople, who make $40,000 to $50,000 per year, to delivery truck drivers earning about $19 per hour, Wells said.

The reduction in sales would likely affect drivers with less seniority first because delivery routes are assigned first to employees with seniority. Drivers without products to deliver would be sent home that day without full pay.

The University plans to resume its contracts if the company agrees to an third-party investigation in Colombia.

Coca-Cola officials argue that locally-produced beverages are not linked to the operations in India and Colombia.

A letter to the University from Coca-Cola signed Dec. 19 said, “Banning Coca-Cola products at the University of Michigan will not affect the bottlers in Colombia or India, which are distinctly separate companies.”

University Spokeswoman Julie Peterson said only retailers who purchase through the University will no longer sell Coke, such as University buildings, residence halls, hospitals and convenience stores.

Third-party retailers with independent contracts will continue to sell the cola.

Vending machines will be allowed to sell remaining Coca-Cola products but will not be refilled.

Generic machines will be filled with alternate products, but machines with the Coca-Cola logo will remain empty.

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