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 155 steward. “That's why we protested and we will do it again.”
Refresco worker Cesar Moreira told the Morristown Daily Record, “This was a demonstration to put pressure on the company to sit down at the table with us. The lawyers are not letting us have a dialogue with Refresco and reach an agreement with them. We're not asking for 100% or 80% of the company's earnings, we're asking for basic things.”
“With protests large or small; with freezing temperatures or rain, the fire of the struggle for a just cause keeps burning,” said Local 155 steward Jose Cepeda.
The union also filed an extensive complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Monday, detailing severe safety and health problems which have resulted in needless injuries, and asking OSHA to conduct an inspection.
There have recently been two fires in the plant, on September 27 and October 11. Workers report that no fire alarms went off, the fire department was not called, and they had to put out the fires themselves — despite having received no training on how to put out fires.
Workers also report that water is often all over the floor in the factory, regularly rising above their shoes. They have to work in wet shoes because they are not provided proper footwear to stay dry. The water on the floor is often dirty and contains chemicals from cleaning out the equipment, producing fumes which workers then inhale. Furthermore, the bathrooms regularly backup and sewage gets all over the floor — forcing workers to stand in the sewage until it drains and gets cleaned up.
Workers are not receiving proper medical attention when they get injured at work. They are regularly told to wait until their shifts end and keep working with injuries — a worker who injured his foot in September was told to wait until four hours after the end of his shift for medical care. Workers are also brought back to work before their injuries have healed. There was recently a worker who was forced to work on crutches.
The OSHA complaint also cites problems with excessive noise, extreme temperatures, dangerous machinery and repetitive injuries.
Refresco workers produce beverages such as BodyArmor Sports Drink for Coca-Cola, Gatorade by Pepsi, Juice Bowl, Arizona Iced Tea, and Tropicana juices and bottle them for shipment to retailers and public school systems in the New York City area and beyond. They voted to join UE in June of this year, overcoming an intense anti-union campaign.
This article was updated on Wednesday, November 17, to include quotes from workers and a link to coverage in the Morristown Daily Record.