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Union disputes firing of Coke driver who drank Pepsi

Teamsters contend he was fired for promoting union

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Teamsters Union said Friday that it doesn't believe a delivery driver in California was fired by the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. because he drank a Pepsi on the job -- the reason the company gave, the union said.

Instead, the union contends, Rick Bronson was fired for promoting the union to non-union employees.

Coke denies that claim.

"We respect the right of our employees to organize," spokesman Bob Phillips said.

"Coke's reason for getting rid of him was for drinking the competitor's product," said Jim Santangelo, a Teamsters representative.

According to Bronson, the company said Bronson's act violated Coke's policies addressing slander against the company and its products.

Phillips declined to confirm the story or comment on Bronson's termination, citing California laws protecting employee privacy.

Santangelo said Bronson, a driver who had been with the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. for 12 years, had just completed a delivery to a California store when he bought a Pepsi at the store and headed to a back room to take a break.

Bronson was wearing his Coke uniform and was on company time when he drank the offending Pepsi.

Someone spotted him and told the company, Santangelo said.

Santangelo also said Bronson had never been disciplined before and had a "clean record" when he was fired. The union has filed a grievance in the case.

When asked whether it is true that a Coke employee may be dismissed for drinking a Pepsi, Phillips replied, "This is one of the issues we intend to discuss."

Phillips said employees, union officials and management often meet to review and discuss workplace standards and employee actions, and added that Coke and the union would likely discuss the issue the next time they meet.

Neither Phillips nor Santangelo has ever heard of another case in which a Coke employee was fired for drinking a competitor's product.

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