ATLANTA - It doesn't pay to take the Pepsi challenge if you happen to work for Coca-Cola.
Rick Bronson, a union activist and driver at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Southern California, apparently learned that lesson the hard way this week when he was fired for allegedly drinking a Pepsi-Cola.
Management at the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Sylmar, California, told Bronson on June 12 he was being dismissed for violating a policy prohibiting slander of Coke products, according to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The union, however, claims Bronson was actually fired for his work organizing Coke merchandisers in Southern California.
"Rick Bronson was actively involved in those organizing campaigns and Coke management knew it," said Jim Santangelo, a spokesman for Teamsters Local 848, which represents Bronson. "That's why he was fired."
The Teamsters have filed unfair labor practice charges against the California bottler, which is owned by Atlanta-based bottling giant Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc.
Bob Phillips, a Coca-Cola Bottling Co. spokesman, declined to comment on the specifics of Bronson's case and would not say whether drinking a competitor's products was a disciplinary offense.
Phillips noted that the bottler had a strict policy prohibiting retaliation against union members and other employees and hoped to reach a "satisfactory resolution" of Bronson's case.
There are more than 300 workers at the Coca-Cola plant in Sylmar, which is in the Los Angeles area.