Media coverage

The Intercept: Public Pensions Are Financing Refresco’s Anti-Union Campaign In New Jersey

September 21, 2021

The Intercept reported on the Refresco workers’ organizing campaign at a Wharton, NJ, bottling plant, calling it an example of not only “typical management anti-union tactics (as alleged by the union), but the Refresco saga also highlights the rise of the private equity ownership model.”

The Intercept, September 19, 2021: Public Pensions Are Financing Refresco’s Anti-union Campaign In New Jersey

The Intercept reported on how Refresco, owned by private equity firm PAI Partners and Canadian pension manager British Columbia Investment (BCI), has sought to fight workers’ attempts to organize a union:

“When 250 Refresco workers at a bottling plant in Wharton, New Jersey, won a union election at the end of June, organizer Anthony Sanchez thought he and his co-workers would soon start negotiating their contract.

“But that hasn’t happened. Instead, Refresco, known as the world’s largest independent bottler, launched an aggressive legal operation, employing a former high-ranking official with the National Labor Relations Board to delay certification.

“Refresco also hired the anti-union firm Cruz & Associates (notably hired by President Donald Trump to oppose unions in his casinos) to aggressively campaign against the union inside of the plant, with the union reporting that the company held so-called captive audience meetings to advocate against the union “nonstop” and papered the plant with anti-union literature.”

PAI Partners counts numerous US public pension funds among its investors, including the Florida state pension, the Massachusetts state pension, and the Pennsylvania public school pension, as well as the British Columbia public employees pension fund.

“Essentially, then, the unionized teachers, firefighters, and other public-sector workers who belong to those pension funds are invested in Refresco’s anti-union campaign…”

CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies professor Samir Sonti told the Intercept, “Unfortunately, as a result of decades of right-wing offenses on the right of working people to retirement security, public pension funds have felt the need to commit workers’ capital to companies that actively undermine workers’ interests. This model has many contradictions, but one of the most problematic is how it prevents [public pension fund] investment staff from recognizing that wage growth for all workers is in the interest of their beneficiaries. An economy that is working for everyone and generating strong public revenues is good for the beneficiaries of public pension funds.”

Private Equity Stakeholder Project Executive Director Jim Baker told the Intercept, “Private equity-owned companies employ millions of workers in the United States, and the number continues to grow as private equity firms are acquiring additional companies at a record pace. At the expense of American families and communities, private equity firms have been focused on growing cash flow.”

The Intercept quoted National Employment Law Project Worker Power program director Anastasia Christman as saying that “too often, a private equity takeover comes with outsize returns for its executives and layoffs or pay cuts for workers.”

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