7 Up workers strike over tiered pay, MLK holiday 

By: - March 23, 2021 12:46 pm

Teamsters Local 337 on strike over wages and recognition of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday | Ken Coleman photo

As a metro Detroit labor-management impasse involving wages and observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday approaches the two-week mark, a settlement does not appear to be in sight.

Teamsters Local 337 workers and union officials have rallied at the 7 Up plant in Redford Twp. since March 11. The local is fighting a two-tiered wage structure that it says disproportionately affects African American workers. The union also wants the MLK holiday officially recognized as an additional paid day off. 

A spokesperson for Plano, Texas-based Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP) owns 7 Up. KDP on Tuesday told the Advance that it has agreed to have federal mediation to help resolve the matter. 

Todd Lince, Local 337 president, said that management should give employees the MLK holiday off with pay, and that it should not have to be selected from one of the nine days that are offered to workers. 

“He’s the reason that we are out here,” said Lince, referring to King’s April 1968 advocacy for supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn. “We stand on his shoulders.”

Vicki Draughn, KDP spokesperson, said the union can select the MLK holiday as a paid day off from a select group of days that have been identified. Company workers in other parts of the country have selected the holiday, she said. 

The local is also opposed to a two-tier wage structure that compensates longer tenured workers more than workers with lesser tenure. Lince said that those lesser tenured workers tend to be people of color.

“I got tier-one employees and I got tier-two employees. I got employees sitting at my bargaining table who started in 2004 that make almost $3 an hour less than the guy right next to him,” said Lince. “The guy making $3 less is Black. The guy that’s making $3 more is white. There shouldn’t be any disparity. They are doing the same job.”

Draughn defended the tiered wage system.

“The tiered wage structure is a very common compensation structure across industries and was voted in by the union over a decade ago,” said Draughn in a statement. “We are not asking for any changes to the wage structure and, in fact, our proposal includes wage increases.”

About one dozen state and federal lawmakers joined strikers on Saturday. Included were U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) and Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.). State Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and state Reps. Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.), Joe Tate (D-Detroit), Stephanie Young (D-Detroit), and Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Twp.) also attended. U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist visited the site on Monday. 

“Proud to stand in solidarity with @Teamsters Local 337 today in Redford. Workers deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity,” Peters tweeted

Tlaib said on Saturday that the federal Protecting the Right to Organize Act would positively impact the Teamsters Local 337-KDP dispute. The measure that passed the U.S. House is a big priority for organized labor and is designed to assist workers negotiate for better pay, benefits and fairness on the job.

“We are pushing the PRO Act, which passed the House and is in the Senate, which really protects workers like this, who are doing their fair share, showing up to work, but not being treated equally in the workplace,” Tlaib said.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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