“Award” comes as no surprise to Refresco workers, who have been fighting for a safe workplace for years
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Tara McCauley, UE International Representative
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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.
“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.
“Many of my co-workers have gotten injured here at the plant. The company does not ensure proper protections and makes us carry the workload of two or three workers each. That results in accidents and people getting injured. And, to top it off, our health insurance plan is so bad that we are afraid of getting sick or having to go to the doctor to get treated.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Refresco refused to provide workers with personal protective equipment and maintained a punitive attendance policy that penalized workers who needed to quarantine.
Refresco workers fought for their safety, organizing an open letter, marching on the boss, and at one point shutting down the whole second shift. In June 2021 they voted to join UE in a National Labor Relations Board election, forming UE Local 115. In November 2021 they 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 list is published every year by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health and released the week of Workers’ Memorial Day (April 28). The full report is available on their website (in both English and Spanish) at nationalcosh.org/The_Dirty_Dozen.
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