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Striking Pepsi drivers install inflatable fat cat, seek to resume talks

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Teamsters Local 142 began a strike outside Pepsi's Munster location on Monday after failing to meet new contract agreements.

MUNSTER — A strike by truck drivers at the Pepsi bottling plant in Munster — the first since 1994 — has entered its second week.

Drivers represented by Teamsters Local 142 have manned the picket line on Calumet Avenue 24/7 since going on strike last Monday, though the number of picketers has shrunk as the strike has stretched on. The workers who haul Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Lipton Tea, Gatorade, Aquafina and Bubly sparkling water across the Midwest have installed a giant inflatable cigar-chomping fat cat clutching a bag of money outside the bottling plant.

They're waving signs like "formerly essential workers," "screw the Dew," "five-fold health care increase," "affordable health care: stop corporate greed," and "stop the war on workers."

Teamsters Local 142 Vice President and Business Agent Harvey Jackson said a planned meeting with Pepsi did not take place last week but the two sides hoped to return to the bargaining table soon.

"We're hoping to possibly resume discussions," he said.

Pepsi's four-year contract with workers expired in May, but was extended a few times as the two sides tried to reach a deal. Production workers at the plant approved a contract that would potentially increase health insurance premiums more than fivefold.

The truck drivers rejected the same plan that would raise health insurance premiums next year from $14-$36 a week to as much as $89 a week in four years. The drivers were less willing to accept such an increase in out-of-pocket costs because their income is more variable, depending on commissions and mileage as they drive Pepsi products to stores in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and other Midwestern markets, Jackson said.

Drivers cannot predict exactly what their income will be in four years, and some could end up seeing a decline in take-home pay four years from now because of the increased out-of-pocket expenses for health care, he said.

Pepsi did not immediately return a request for comment but has previously said the strike is "disruptive to all parties involved."

Workers at the Munster plant drive Pepsi products to stores across the Midwest, typically within a day's drive. Jackson said the Teamsters union has been able to provide shipping services to Pepsi more cheaply than outside carriers partly because of a lack of overnight and per diem expenses that longer truck trips necessitate.

State Rep. Mike Andrade, who joined the picket lines with workers last week, said he supported and would fight for the striking workers.

"We cannot have people not working right now," he said. "For the sake of our local economic development, we want to make sure everyone is working. We hope Pepsi comes to an agreement. There's no reason they can't. We're still dealing with a pandemic. They need to work this out. They need to not raise the premium. Maybe in a few years they can revisit it again but at this time there shouldn't be any reason why they're wanting to raise the premium, especially coming from a multibillion corporation."

Last year, New York State-based Pepsi had a market capitalization of more than $204 billion and revenue of more than $70 billion.


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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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