NJ bottling plant workers to speak to tomorrow’s board meeting of the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System about its investment in the private equity firm that is financing a campaign against their union.
When: Friday, October 8, 10am Eastern Time
Where: Virtual meeting on Microsoft Teams
For more information contact:
John Ocampo, UE Field Organizer
(312) 686-0096 | email@example.com
Workers from the Refresco bottling plant will be speaking at the board meeting of the Pennsylvania Public School Employees Retirement System on Friday about that pension fund’s unwitting investment in a union-busting campaign against Refresco’s mostly Latin American immigrant workforce. The Pennsylvania public school pension is just one of many public-sector pension funds that invest in PAI Partners, a private equity firm based in Paris that is a co-owner of Refresco, the world’s largest independent bottling company.
Refresco workers started organizing their union a year and a half ago to counter abusive treatment by supervisors, low wages, minimal benefits, sexual harassment, constant schedule changes, and an unforgiving attendance system that penalized workers for getting sick. Refresco carried out an intense anti-union campaign prior to the National Labor Relations Board certification election on June 24 and 25, 2021, when a majority of the 250 workers at the plant voted to join the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). Since the election, Refresco has filed a series of frivolous legal appeals to stall bargaining, most of which are complaints about the behavior of its own company observers during the voting process.
Last week, 20 workers marched on company managers, delivering a letter signed by a majority of their coworkers demanding that the company begin negotiations. The letter called out Refresco’s lack of respect for its workers, and asserted that without workers having a real say over their working conditions, the “plant will remain in its current state of chaos.”
Refresco workers have also been reaching out directly to other investors in Refresco parent companies, beginning with the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). At the TRS board meeting on September 17, 2021, Anthony Sanchez, a Refresco Wharton Machine Operator III for 15 years, told the members of the pension board, “I would like to talk to you as investors about the conditions that we are working under there. We are working in unsafe conditions, with low salaries. The health insurance is bad, with very high deductibles, and high co-pays. Refresco is refusing to sit down with us and negotiate a fair contract.” Sanchez will be addressing the PSERS meeting on Friday.
Another Refresco Wharton employee, Machine Operator IV Diana Acevedo, also told the trustees, “Refresco does not care about our well being. They make us continue working during the pandemic with a lack of appropriate protection and sanitary supplies. There is a lot of favoritism in the plant. They change the schedules from morning to night at the last minute. They force us to work while we are ill and have a fever and are clearly sick. We want what is in the best interest of the workers. We want to be part of the union.” PAI has not responded to questions about how it planned to address its mistreatment of Refresco workers.
This is not the first time PAI Partners has found itself embroiled in a labor dispute involving one of its portfolio companies. In 2019, another PAI Partners’ company, airport concession company Areas, was involved in a labor dispute with hospitality union UNITE HERE. Areas had taken over concessions at several airports and drew criticism from UNITE HERE for not rehiring long-time employees who had been laid off by the previous operator. Another labor dispute between Areas and UNITE HERE in 2020 led two board members of the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA) to say that LACERA should not reinvest in PAI Partners until the labor dispute was resolved.
Refresco workers will also be addressing the board meeting of the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association on October 13, and submitting written testimony to the Washington State Investment Board ahead of their October 18 board meeting.
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