“Dirty Dozen” Company Demonstrates Failure of US Health and Safety, Labor Laws to Protect Workers

April 29, 2022

Refresco, named this week to national list of companies most dangerous to workers’ health, also flouts labor law with impunity

For more information contact:
Tara McCauley, UE International Representative
(217) 369 5407 | tara.mccauley@ueunion.org

Refresco’s New Jersey bottling plant has earned the dubious distinction of being selected as one of 2022’s “Dirty Dozen,” an annual list of unsafe employers who put workers, families and communities at risk.

The “award” came as no surprise to the workers in the plant, members of UE Local 115.

“Our health and safety is not a priority here,” said Lida Guevara, a quality technician in the laboratory. “During the worst of the pandemic, they refused to listen to us. They made us come in to work and many workers got seriously ill.” In November 2021, Refresco workers filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reporting fires at the plant, standing pools of chemical water, and noise hazards resulting in hearing loss. OSHA is currently investigating this complaint.

The “Dirty Dozen” selection came as workers at the plant are confronting another setback in their struggle for a safe workplace: after months of delays and legal appeals by the company, the National Labor Relations Board recently threw out the results of their 2021 union election.

That decision, based on the NLRB itself opening the voting five minutes late — a minor error that UE conclusively demonstrated had no effect on the election outcome — means that workers must once again endure a barrage of union-busting. The company has installed TV screens in the plant to tell workers that they should vote no, and managers are spreading lies about union dues and initiation fees and interrogating workers one-on-one or in small group settings to determine where they stand on the union.

“Once again, we are being subjected to a misinformation and pressure campaign by Refresco management,” said Refresco worker Carlos Cardona. “We won our union election fair and square last year but Refresco's lawyers, led by a guy who worked at the NLRB for 20 years, then objected to the results because the NLRB agent opened the voting center up five minutes late while waiting for the interpreter to arrive.

“The company couldn't provide a single witness to testify under oath that they hadn't been able to vote because of that minor delay,” continued Cardona. “Despite that, the NLRB ultimately ordered a new election and now Refresco is once again lying to workers so that they vote against the union and against our own interests.”

“The decision by the labor board to throw out Refresco workers’ election victory shows that our country’s labor laws are just as broken as our health and safety laws,” said UE Director of Organization Mark Meinster. “Until our government takes workers’ rights to organize and to a safe and healthy workplace seriously, the only recourse that workers have is to unite and engage in aggressive struggle to compel their employers to respect their rights.”

“We won't be beat because we have truth and justice on our side,” concluded Cardona, “but our experience here shows that, just like Refresco, the whole NLRB process is broken and in need of drastic changes.”

The Dirty Dozen list is published every year by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health and released the week of Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28).

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