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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview with Ric Bronson

Aired June 17, 2003 - 19:43   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, after 12 years working for coca-cola's bottling company Ric Bronson out of a job today. Why, you ask? While on the job in uniform, he was seen taking a hit of a forbidden substance which goes by the street name Diet Pepsi, so he got canned. What was it the real thing or is it a union battle? Coca says it isn't but declined to join us.
Ric Bronson joins now from Los Angeles. Ric, thanks for being with us.

I think a lot of people when they hear it on first blush just find it extraordinary. You were in the backroom. You had a Diet Pepsi to drink, and someone you think reported you.

What happened?

RIC BRONSON, CLAIMS COKE CANNED HIM FOR DRINKING A DIET PEPSI: Well, that's precisely what happened. We -- I was at an account. It's a Smart and Feinhold, which is a company that sells things in bulk. I bought a Diet Pepsi and Coke employees were back there helping me put product away. I think it was one of them that turned me in to the company.

COOPER: Now, have you ever had a Diet Pepsi before?

BRONSON: Absolutely. I'm a diet drinker. So if a Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi, I drink any diet product but...

COOPER: When they told you would be terminated, what did they say?

BRONSON: They told me that they were -- the actual terminology was it was a gross violation of the Coca-Cola code of conduct, which was slandering the company, its employees or its products. And they said by drinking a Diet Pepsi, that that's what I had done.

COOPER: I know you signed some sort of agreement when you were first employed by the company but I know you've been working there 12 years or so.

Do you remember what you signed, did it say anything about drinking Pepsi, Diet Pepsi?

BRONSON: To my knowledge no. I asked management where it said in the code of conduct or anywhere in writing or verbally that had they ever told me that it was illegal to do that and they didn't come back with anything. So I don't remember.

COOPER: Now, Ric, as we said, we invited Coca-Cola to be here. They declined and did give us a statement about the situation. I am going to put in on the screen.

Says, "This situation involving Mr. Bronson is an unfortunate one. As any employer would expect, we are always hopeful that our employees are respectful and loyal to our products while on the job."

Doesn't really address whether or not they do have a policy against this.

Why is it that you think you were let go?

BRONSON: I honestly think it was because of some union organizing activities.

COOPER: Tell us about that. You were trying to organize some union for the Teamsters and you feel that they were not happy about that?

BRONSON Right. We had 100 merchandisers that they put the product on the shelf in the supermarkets and they came to the union and said that they wanted to be represented by the Teamsters and I was one of the ones that got out the information and answered questions and basically told them what I knew about the union and that was about it.

COOPER: Now, Coca-Cola of course says this is not the case. In fact we have another statement from them on this subject. We are going to put it on the screen. "We have a strict company policy against retaliation, and we do not tolerate retaliation against any employee." They're talking about retaliation for union organizing.

Your response?

BRONSON: My response is, is it's the -- the vote was on the 16th of May. I drank the Diet Pepsi on the 23rd and I was suspended on the 30th. So within two weeks after outcome of the vote for the union, I was suspended and subsequently terminated on June 10.

COOPER: So what happens to you now, Ric?

BRONSON: Right now, the teamsters union has filed for arbitration and there has to be an arbitrator selected and we take the case before them and they decide.

COOPER: You still want to work at Coca-Cola?

BRONSON: Absolutely. I've been there 11 years, I'm 45, I was going to retire there. It's a good company to work for. I had a good job.

COOPER: Would you stop drinking Diet Pepsi if they asked you?

BRONSON: I don't know. I have a hard time answering that. I didn't know that we had a -- I didn't know we didn't have a choice. That's my big thing.

COOPER: Ric Bronson, appreciate you joining us. It's a strange story caught our attention. We are going follow it for you. And I would love to have you back when we find out what happens.

Thanks very much.

BRONSON: OK, thanks for having me.

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