Democratic lawmakers join 7UP workers picketing over labor practices

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Redford Township — Jimmy Love has spent the entire COVID-19 pandemic inside a 7UP distribution center, stacking products 60 hours per week. He said he wants the company he works for to acknolwedge that sacrifice and to recognize it matters.

"Give us our equal pay and treat us fairly. The things that you want to be able to provide for your family, we want those same things," said Love, 35, of Detroit. "There should be equality all around."

Love made his plea Saturday from a picket line outside the center on Beech Daly Road. The Detroiter gathered with dozens of co-workers, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Debbie Dingell, Haley Stevens and Andy Levin and State. Sen. Erika Geiss to argue for a fair resolution to a strike over claims of unfair labor practice and unequal pay.

Jimmy Love, 35, of Detroit , left, and Carlos Small, 48, both of Detroit, work as stackers inside the 7UP facility in Redford Township. Both are on strike over labor practices.

Vicki Draughn, a spokeswoman for Keurig Dr. Pepper, 7UP’s parent company, said Saturday that the company will continue to negotiate with the union in good faith and looks forward to quickly resolving the outstanding issues. 

“We have proudly served the Detroit community alongside our employees for decades and are committed to providing a diverse and respectful workplace," she said. "Our offer to the union includes increased wages for all employees and makes no changes to the previously union-endorsed wage structure."

Delivery drivers, warehouse workers, mechanics and other staff have been picketing 24 hours a day since March 11. They are striking over the beverage company’s refusal to bargain in good faith, organizers contend.

"I'm tired of people being screwed. You work hard," Dingell, D-Dearborn, said from the site on Saturday afternoon. "In good union management, you treat each other with respect. You don't treat each other in a demeaning way. You shouldn't have to strike. We're going to be out here with you, we support you, you deserve to be paid a good and decent wage with good and decent benefits that are secure and safe."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Derborn, joins 7UP workers on strike over claims of unfair labor practices

The workers have been outraged over 7UP’s refusal to address pay disparities between Tier 1 and Tier 2 workers and the company's refusal to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a paid company holiday, among other things, Todd Lince, president of Teamsters Local 337 told The News on Saturday. 

"We just want the employees to be respected and to be taken care of appropriately," he said.

The workers, Lince noted, remained on the job throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering beverages to retailers and grocery stores including Meijer, Kroger, Sam’s Club and Walmart.

"Every day, a driver went out and made deliveries and had to interact with people," he said. "It's been stressful. They are essential workers. They went into work every day, drivers went into stores and this is how they are getting treated."

Todd Lince, president of Teamsters Local 337, joins workers on the picket line outside a 7UP facility in Redford Township. The members are on strike over claims of unfair labor practices

Draughn said Saturday that Teamsters local employees are free to select their designated paid holidays, as has been done in contract negotiations at the company's other sites. 

"There are nine days designated as holidays and we are open to the union selecting any day that is appropriate for them during the negotiations," she said. 

The Teamsters are representing about 80 employees from the Redford facility. The most recent five-year contract expired in February. Lince said all of the workers are on the picket line and the company has called in replacement workers and mangers from other locations to fill in. 

On Friday, the two sides agreed to bring in a federal mediator in the coming week to aid in the negotiations, he said. 

Tlaib, D-Detroit, said she and other colleagues plan to send letters to the company, in support of an equitable deal for the workers.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, joins 7UP workers on the picket line. The Teamsters members are arguing for better wages.

"Please know that I am going to be your partner and I'm not going to stand down," she said. "You all deserve to be able to provide for your families. You shouldn't have to beg them to do the right thing."

Carlos Small said he's worked at the distribution plant for 14 years and the former union steward said he's still not at top pay. 

Small said he's always felt that his workplace is "segregated." The majority of the African American workforce at the facility, he said, are concentrated inside the factory. 

"We worked through the whole pandemic and kept them afloat," said Small, 48, of Detroit. "A lot of people were at home who weren't considered essential workers and they were collecting unemployment. We didn't get that opportunity to rest."