Black Coca-Cola workers call layoffs ‘ethnic cleansing’

By Erin McClam, Nando Times, 5 March 2000

ATLANTA (March 5, 2000 9:49 a.m. EST—Hundreds of black former Coca-Cola employees rallied Saturday, calling the company’s massive job cuts ethnic cleansing and accusing the beverage giant of severely mistreating workers.

Blacks in the company are humiliated, intimidated, yelled at, called the N-word, treated with disrespect, said Larry Jones, a former Coke manager who organized a meeting of about 500 laid-off black workers Saturday at a church outside Atlanta.

This is the real thing, he said, mocking a company slogan. This is the real Coca-Cola.

Coke spokesman Ben Deutsch called the allegations of racial discrimination in the job cuts outrageous.

The decisions we’re making are being done for business purposes only, he said Saturday night. We are trying to do everything we can during this extremely difficult time to do the right thing for our current and former employees at every turn.

Protesters applauded Coca-Cola’s decision not to require laid-off workers to sign a waiver forcing them to choose between participating in a discrimination lawsuit pending against the company or enjoying better severance benefits. But the workers said a future boycott of Coca-Cola by black leaders remained an option.

The waiver had left black workers with a difficult decision because of a racial discrimination suit filed last year by current and former black employees.

Coke is reducing its worldwide work force by 6,000, with 2,500 of the eliminated jobs coming from its Atlanta headquarters.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit contend that Jones, a black human resources manager, was laid off Feb. 15 after meeting with Coke President Jack Stahl to express black employees’ concerns about job cuts.

What happened on Feb. 15 was essentially ethnic cleansing, Jones said Saturday.

Coke spokesman Ben Deutsch has said Jones’ dismissal was unrelated to his meeting with Stahl.

The workers demanded Saturday that Coke work harder to settle the lawsuit, develop a fairer system of employee evaluation and stop looking at the price of the stock to pay more attention to diversity.