Last edited 3:58 p.m. Oct. 14, 2019
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for Ozarks Coca-Cola/Dr Pepper Bottling Co., as the 99-year-old, family-owned business has started a major warehouse expansion project as the ink is drying on its latest union contract.
At its Springfield bottling plant, 1777 N. Packer Road, dirt work is underway on a $15 million, 400,000-square-foot addition to its existing 125,000-square-foot facility. An official groundbreaking is yet to be scheduled for the project by general contractor Ross Construction Group LLC.
“We’re focused on growth and our expansion right now,” said Ozarks Coca-Cola Vice President Sally Hargis, a week after the approved labor contract with Teamsters Local 245.
Hargis, who also is the company’s board chairwoman, said the project doesn’t yet have an estimated completion date, though she’s confident it’ll wrap up next year. It covers 24 acres the company owns west of the existing plant.
Ozarks Coca-Cola has been leasing 85,000 square feet of warehouse space at 2960 N. Martin St., near Partnership Industrial Center, for more than two years, she said.
The bottler of dozens of soft drink beverages plans to add to its 700-employee roster in connection with the warehouse expansion. Hargis said officials haven’t yet determined the number of new hires planned.
“Ozarks Coca-Cola and our family have always been committed to the Springfield community, Missouri and the communities in which we operate,” Hargis said, adding the company plans to mark its 100-year anniversary of family ownership next year.
The company also operates distribution facilities in Joplin, West Plains, Bolivar and Rolla. In Springfield, Ozarks Coca-Cola also is in the midst of installing an $18 million new manufacturing line at the existing plant, scheduled to be online before year’s end, she said. The company reported 2018 sales of 16 million cases, she added.
The Springfield-based company, led by CEO Edwin C. “Cookie” Rice, employs 560 in Missouri and 140 in northwest Arkansas, Hargis said. Of that total, 267 employees work in Springfield.
Roughly 150 of the Springfield workers are Teamster members, she said, adding the company has operated with union membership since 1955.
Jim Kabell, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 245, said the approved three-year labor contract with Ozarks Coca-Cola went into effect Sept. 30. It’s set to expire in April 2022. The contract had expired in April, he said, with the company and union representatives negotiating the past five months.
The union represents plant employees, with the exception of clerical staff and management, Kabell said. Hargis added there are around 20 union job classifications, such as service technicians, plant production operators and delivery drivers, that work for the company.
Kabell said union officials negotiated a pay raise beginning in 2020, ranging from 49 cents to nearly $3 per hour, depending on the job classification.
“Economically, this is one of the better contracts we’ve had in the past few contracts,” he said, noting the previous contract length also was three years.
The agreement spells out hourly raises in each subsequent year but for lesser amounts. On the higher end of the raises are employees in vending repair and facility maintenance, Kabell said, with stockers among those on the lower end.
Contract approval was a close call by the membership, he said, declining to disclose the vote tally. He noted a tight vote was expected, as some employees had issues with not getting a retroactive pay increase from the months during negotiations. The raises go into effect Jan. 1 for each of the next three years.
Hargis said the company’s union workforce received a raise Jan. 1 of this year, and a retroactive increase would have given them two pay bumps in 2019. She declined to disclose additional details of the latest contract.
Health care was another point of contention during negotiations, Kabell said. Many members favored a Taft-Hartley medical plan that the union provides to membership on behalf of the employer through collective bargaining. He said Ozarks Coca-Cola has long offered a self-funded health plan with Springfield-based Med-Pay Inc. as the third-party administrator.
“It was a decent contract, but it wasn’t a great contract,” Kabell said, noting the contract approval makes the health care issue a moot point until the next negotiation period. “I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, and I’ve never seen a perfect contract yet.”
Teamsters Local 245 represents union workers at 40-50 companies. Over a dozen of those contracts came up for negotiations this year, he said, pointing to current discussions with Dairy Farmers of America and Missouri State University, on behalf of the school’s public safety officers and dispatch staff.
Ozarks Coca-Cola’s investments have extended beyond the Springfield area in recent years.
In 2015, the independent bottling company purchased new territories and distribution centers in Joplin and West Plains from Atlanta-based The Coca-Cola Co. (NYSE: KO). It also expanded to territories in northern Arkansas and southeast Kansas that same year.
Those acquisitions more than doubled Ozarks Coca-Cola’s distribution footprint, as well as its employee count, Hargis said. The company employed around 225 prior to the 2015 territory expansion.
“Acquiring more space in our distribution centers and adding in all our new brands being developed, we have a larger number of products in our warehouse to distribute,” she said, noting the company’s product line has expanded in the past few years to include energy drinks, sports drinks and milk-based products. It’s also partnered on coffee drinks with Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s.
Hargis declined to disclose company sales or its annual growth rates. She said the Packer Road warehouse expansion project – designed by Buxton Kubik Dodd Design Collective – is a direct result of the new territories and bolstered product line with brands including BodyArmor sports drinks and Core Power protein shakes.
“We’re distributing more brands than ever before with Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper,” she said. “We’re trying to offer the consumer more choices.”
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