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Pepsi Workers Vote Today on Proposal to End 6-Week Strike : Labor: Employees in Buena Park and at three other Southern California plants will consider an offer by soft drink company.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Striking workers at PepsiCo Inc. bottling plants in Buena Park and three other Southern California cities will vote today on a company offer that would end their six-week strike.

Union leaders say they will recommend that workers reject the offer because it does not provide adequate retirement and health benefits, but company officials said they expect workers to approve the proposal in a secret ballot. Neither side would reveal details of the offer.

About 700 Teamsters Union members walked out June 21 in a dispute over retirement benefits. The majority of striking workers are drivers, warehouse loaders and bottlers.

“They have a philosophical position that workers should not retire before the age of 62,” said Michael Patton, benefit specialist for Teamsters Local 952, representing the Buena Park bottling plant. “This is a very physical, demanding job and after 30 years, it takes its toll.”

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The union is seeking a “Golden 84" retirement plan in which workers would be eligible for full pensions if their age and total years of service with Pepsi add up to 84.

Pepsi claims that the demands are unwarranted. Each union member receives long-term disability insurance, guaranteed annual stock options and generous salaries, according to Jeff Brown, a spokesman for Pepsi.

“They have walked out on good jobs over an obscure issue,” said Brown. “These people are doing well--many are making more than $15 an hour and $40,000 a year with overtime.” He also said that many of the jobs do not require heavy labor.

Other bottling plants affected by the strike are in Torrance, Baldwin Park and San Fernando.

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The soft drink company says that the plants are running at 95% capacity, and that the company has kept store shelves fully stocked with Pepsi products. The facilities have been operated with replacement workers and about 100 managers from around the country, according to company spokesman Brown. About 100 of the striking workers also have returned to work, he said.

The dispute took an ugly turn last week when the Food and Drug Administration notified the cola company that a “metal object” was found in a Pepsi can originating from its Torrance bottling facility. Pepsi recalled all drinks produced in the same batch as the tainted can.

Teamsters leaders deny any involvement or knowledge about the incident. They say it would have been impossible for any member to tamper with Pepsi products because striking workers are outside the plants’ fences.

In Buena Park on Thursday, about a dozen striking workers--many drinking cans of Coca-Cola-- heckled replacement drivers as they drove Pepsi trucks into the plant.

Union members for the Orange County bottling facility do not have union strike funds to support themselves, unlike the San Fernando and Torrance Teamsters. Two years ago, Buena Park members voted against setting aside a portion of their checks for such emergencies.

“This is a real education,” Teamster official Patton said. “They realize this is the time when they really need it.”

He said the union has twice supplied $150 food vouchers to each striking member in Buena Park since the strike began.

Bill Freitas, a Teamsters international representative based in Stockton, said plans are being made to extend the strike to plants in Northern California, Oregon and Washington next week if Pepsi’s latest offer is turned down at the four Southern California plants.

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