For more than two years, over 200 workers who bottle Gatorade, BodyArmor, Juice Bowl, Arizona Iced Tea, and Tropicana Juices for Refresco, the world’s largest independent bottling company, have been fighting to secure a measure of justice at work. With their second NLRB election win in less than a year, they are one step closer to winning it.
This week, approximately 240 workers at the Refresco bottling plant in Wharton, New Jersey overcame a brutal anti-union campaign to vote for UE a second time, reaffirming their June 2021 union victory.
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.
Chanting “¡Sin Unión, No Hay Solución!” (without the union, there is no solution), UE members from six states gathered outside the Refresco bottling plant in Wharton, New Jersey on a beautiful Sunday morning in late April. Refresco workers won a National Labor Relations Board last June, forming UE Local 115. However, after nine months of legal appeals by the company, the NLRB threw out the election on a technicality, forcing the workers to vote again — and to endure another barrage of union-busting.
Workers at the Refresco bottling plant, members of UE Local 115, rallied outside of the plant on Monday, November 15, to demand that the company begin negotiations with their union.
“We protested yesterday because these gentlemen from Refresco have not been able to accept that there is now a UNION at the company,” said Licinia Ochoa, a worker at the plant and Local 115 steward. “That's why we protested and we will do it again.”
In June, 250 workers at the Refresco bottling plant voted to join UE in a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election, forming UE Local 115. Rather than beginning negotiations for a first contract, Refresco has instead filed a series of frivolous legal appeals.
The new UE members are not simply waiting on the legal process, however. They are taking action in the shop and have been working with the Private Equity Stakeholder Project to reach out directly to investors in Refresco parent companies, including various public-employee pension funds.
In his final organizing report to a UE convention before his retirement at the end of October, Director of Organization Gene Elk gave an overview of what he called “one of the most fruitful periods for organizing in UE that I can remember.
“Despite the pandemic and despite outrageous attacks on the labor movement, I am proud to say that organizing is alive and well in UE,” Elk told delegates “Neither the pandemic nor the attack from the right could stop us from carrying out UE’s mission to organize the unorganized.
Last Thursday, 20 workers at the Refresco bottling plant in Wharton, NJ marched on company managers, demanding that the company begin negotiating with their union, UE Local 115.
The workers delivered a letter signed by a majority of their coworkers that called out Refresco’s lack of respect, and asserted that without workers having a real say over their working conditions, the “plant will remain in its current state of chaos.”
“I’ve worked here for 22 years and have the scars to prove it,” said Licinia Ochoa, a machine operator, explaining why she “jumped into” the UE organizing campaign at the Refresco bottling plant. “I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I did all these years.”