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CUNY Law Bans Coca-Cola, Citing Unfair Labor Practices

By Deborah Kolben
Issue: 5/5/06
The New York Sun
Original article by subscription

Coca-Cola is being expelled from the CUNY School of Law.

Citing unfair labor practices at a company bottling plant in Colombia, the law school in Queens voted this week to ban its beverages in all campus vending machines. Student groups are prohibited from using school money to buy any Coca-Cola products for meetings or other events.

"We are a public interest law school and this was just such a glaring inconsistency with the reason that most people are at CUNY Law School," a first-year student who worked on the anti-Coke campaign, Ashley Grant, said.

The director a group called the Campaign to Stop Killer Coke, Ray Rogers, said the CUNY Law School decision was significant because it is part of one of the largest urban campuses in the country.

About two dozen colleges across the country have banned the sale of Coca-Cola products over the past several years including New York University and the University of Michigan.

The loss of a law school with fewer than 500 students is unlikely to cause a financial hardship for the beverage giant, but it does raise the question of how it will influence the other 18 colleges in the city's massive public university system, which includes more than 400,000 students.

One of those colleges, Queensborough, is coming up on the end of its five-year exclusive contract with Coca-Cola. Some students and faculty members are encouraging the administration to strike a deal with a new beverage company.

Coke has visited the campus to defend itself and to answer questions about the company.

The school is accepting applications for exclusive "pouring rights" until May 9.

Labor activists have charged that Coca-Cola is responsible for the deaths and unfair treatment of union leaders in Colombia. Coca-Cola has denied all of the accusations.

A spokesman for the company did not return calls seeking comment.

The law school, which was founded to train lawyers for public service and public interest practice — has just a handful of vending machines on its campus. Unlike larger colleges in the system, it does not have an exclusive deal with a beverage company.

"I have no concern at all about them making a decision about whether they want Coke products in the vending machines," the acting dean at the law school, Mary Lu Bilek, said. "I would have been concerned if there wasn't debate, if somebody was trying to ram something down someone else's throat."

CUNY's faculty and staff union, the Professional Staff Congress, passed a resolution last year to ban Coca-Cola at its events. Each school in the CUNY system is allowed to determine its own beverage contract.

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