Workers End Strike At Coca-Cola Plant In Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Workers at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Venezuela have ended a strike that lasted nearly a month and drastically cut back production of soft drinks in the country, the bottling company said Thursday.

Coca-Cola Femsa de Venezuela SA said it signed a new contract on Wednesday night with workers at its plant in the northern-central city of Valencia.

About 1,000 workers had been on strike since Jan. 14. The work stoppage had shut down half of the company's production in the country and led to increasing shortages of soft drinks in stores.

The new contract brings significant improvements for workers, said Rodrigo Anzola, legal director of the company.

Anzola told The Associated Press that the strike had a financial impact for the company, though he declined to provide figures. He said the bottler had not produced 10.4 million crates of drinks as a result of the protest.

Coca-Cola Femsa, a Mexico-based bottler, operates four plants and 33 distribution centers in the South American nation. About 1,200 employees work at the Valencia out of a total payroll of nearly 8,000 in the country.

Striking workers had been demanding a new contract with higher salaries and other benefits. They had shut down production of soft drinks at the plant while continuing to produce bottled water to avoid shortages.

Last week President Hugo Chavez backed workers in the dispute, saying: "If Coca-Cola doesn't want to comply with the constitution and laws, well, one can live without Coca-Cola."

Union leader Miguel de Pablos told the AP that Chavez's stance apparently played a role in settling the matter. He said that after Chavez's remarks on television, the company "had a very different attitude and the contract was practically sealed in two meetings."

Anzola denied that the president's comments influenced the negotiations.