View Full Version : Workers Shut Down Facilities of Former Employer in Venezuela

lord patch
02-15-2008, 03:43 PM
Workers Shut Down Facilities of Former Employer in Venezuela
Posted by: "Tj O Conchúir" tj@irsm.org kcredbranch
Thu Feb 14, 2008 7:50 pm (PST)

Mérida, February 13, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Ex-workers of Coca-Cola
in Venezuela took over and shutdown 13 distribution centers and one
bottling plant of their former employer over the past week. The actions
are the culmination of a heated severance pay dispute that has persisted
since the workers were laid off in 2003.

On Monday Coca-Cola Femsa legal director Rodrigo Anzola declared that the
company "believes in and respects Venezuelan law," which is why it demands
that the Minister of the Interior and the Defense Ministry intervene to
bring to an end the "illegal and unconstitutional" blockage, which has
affected 45% of the commercial activity of the company and 36% of the
current workers.

The 5,000-strong group of fleet workers and contractors claim Coca-Cola
Femsa owes them a total of $520 million, but Anzola insists that no
contractual relationship has ever existed between these workers and the
current ownership.

Regiomontano Industrial Group, which currently owns Coca-Cola`s Venezuela
bottling franchise, claims that when Regiomontano took over operations in
2003, the ex workers were laid off by the previous franchise owner,
Panamco. According to this argument, the ex-workers are violently
demanding payment from a company that never employed them.

But the ex-workers are backed by National Assembly legislators Iris
Varela, Marcela Máspero, and Reinaldo García, who advocate that the
federal government should expropriate Coca-Cola`s Venezuelan bottling
plants and produce "Venezuelan soft drinks instead" if the company does
not comply with worker demands. Anzola decried that the legislators are
"deceiving" the ex-workers by promising impossible rewards that the
company cannot possibly provide.

The legislators also supported the ex-workers when they blocked off all
four of Coca-Cola Femsa`s bottling plants in October 2006. The total
stoppage brought the case to the Venezuelan Supreme Court. A "dialogue
table" was initiated, which Anzola claims took 90% of the cases off the
table, leaving only a few cases related to sick relatives, for which the
company created $4 million fund that clearly is not enough to compensate
the workers' current demands.

While rumors suggest the ex-workers have no plans to give in, current
employees pleaded with the ex-workers to open distribution lines because
over half of Coca-Cola Femsa`s 8,000 workers do not have fixed salaries,
so when distribution stops, so do their paychecks. "We understand the
situation of the ex-workers, but we do not want them to affect our right
to work," union leader Joel Echezuría proclaimed Tuesday. Echezuría asked
that they "go to the courts... if Coca-Cola owes them, that is what the
courts are for," echoing the company line.

The current workers also told the legislators involved to get back to
their work in the National Assembly and let the workers reach an
understanding with the company on their own, reminding them that the
Unemployment Assistance Law still has not been passed.

Echezuría and his co-workers, along with their affiliate Guyana Gaseous
Beverages Workers Union and workers unions in the state of Bolívar, are
already battling with Coca-Cola Femsa over salaries and benefits. Workers
claim their salaries have not increased in over a year and a half, and
should be adjusted to be consistent with inflation. In early January of
his year, the union blocked off Coca-Cola`s distribution lines and took to
the streets after contract negotiations went on for six months without

Apart from these disputes, Coca-Cola Femsa has also faced disciplinary
measures from the federal government. All of the company's Venezuela
operations were shut down for 48 hours for tax evasion in March 2007. The
disciplinary measure was part of the "Zero Evasion" plan initiated in 2004
by the Integrated National Customs and Tax Administration Service

According to news reports, the purchase of bottling operations in
Venezuela in 2003 converted Coca-Cola Femsa, a Mexican firm, into the
largest Coca-Cola distributor in Latin America. The former chief Coca-Cola
bottler and Venezuela operator, Panamco, is accused of hiring paramilitary
thugs to murder union leaders at their plants in Pasto, Carepa, Monteria,
and Barranquilla, Colombia, from 1990-2002. This is especially troubling
considering that Chávez denounced increasing paramilitary activity in
Venezuela on his weekly talk show Aló Presidente last Sunday.