Attorneys representing 500 striking employees at Coke filed a class action lawsuit against the company yesterday for violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) after Coke canceled the employees' health care. Five plaintiffs were named in the complaint.
ERISA is the federal law that sets minimum standards for health plans in private industry to protect individuals covered under these plans.
"My wife had a kidney transplant two years ago. When Coke cancelled our health care, they cut off her anti-rejection medication. This shows me that Coke doesn't care about its employees," said Bill Mauhl, a 34-year Coke employee, who works in the company's production facility in Bellevue.
"In my almost twenty years of representing workers and unions in labor disputes, it's hard to think of any past instance where I have seen an employer retaliate against its striking workers in a manner as egregious as what the Coca-Cola Bottling Company has done here," said Dmitri Iglitzin, an attorney at Schwerin Campbell Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt, an employment law firm based in Seattle.
"Cutting off the medical benefits to more than 500 workers, knowing that many of them rely on those benefits on a day-to-day basis and will be irreparably harmed if they lose those benefits is a brutal, full-scale attack by Coke on its own workers," Iglitzin said.
Approximately 500 Coke employees in Western Washington went on strike on Monday over charges of employee surveillance, intimidation and bad faith bargaining.
Contract negotiations between the union and Coke have been underway since April, but the company refused to bargain for 10 weeks, and then began an aggressive campaign of unfair labor practices. The employees' contract expired on May 25, 2010.