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The cola wars get personal
Coke employee fired for drinking Pepsi on the job.
June 16, 2003: 7:35 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The big difference between drinking a Coke or a Pepsi could be a pink slip, as one Coke employee discovered Thursday.

The Teamsters union alleges a Coke (KO: Research, Estimates) delivery truck driver was fired for drinking a Pepsi (PEP: Research, Estimates) on the job in violation of Coke's policies intended to prevent slander against the company and its products.

"Coke's reason for getting rid of him was for drinking the competitor's product," said Jim Santangelo, a Teamsters representative.

Santangelo said Rick Bronson, a driver who had been with Coca-Cola Bottling Co. for 12 years, had just completed a delivery to a California store called Smart and Final. Bronson purchased a Pepsi at the store and headed to a back room to take a break.

Bronson was wearing his Coke uniform and was on company time when he drank the offending Pepsi.

Someone spotted Bronson and notified the company, Santangelo said.

Santangelo also said Bronson had never been disciplined before and had a "clean record" when he was fired.

Bob Phillips, a spokesman for Coke, declined to confirm the story or comment on Bronson's termination, citing California laws protecting employee privacy.

When asked whether it is true that an employee can be dismissed for chugging a Pepsi, Phillips replied, "This is one of the issues we intend to discuss."

Phillips said employees, union officials and management can meet to review and discuss workplace standards and employee actions. Phillips said Coke and the union likely would discuss the issue the next time they met.

Neither Phillips nor Santangelo has ever heard of another case where a Coke employee was fired for drinking a competitor's product.

The Teamsters' spokesman claims that Bronson was actually dismissed because he promoted his union to non-union workers.

Coke denies this claim.

"We respect the right of our employees to organize," Phillips said.  Top of page

-- by CNNfn intern Suzanne Presto

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