The private equity firm KKR recently acquired a majority stake in Refresco, the world’s largest independent bottling company. Refresco produces beverages such as BodyArmor Sports Drink for Coca-Cola, Gatorade for Pepsi, Arizona Iced Tea, and Tropicana juices.
Last month, workers at the Refresco bottling plant in Wharton, New Jersey voted to join the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America union (UE). KKR should ensure that Refresco honors the results of the election by working in good faith to reach a fair collective bargaining agreement.
In a June 2021 election, a majority of the almost 250 workers at the plant supported joining the UE to counter the abusive treatment by supervisors, low wages, minimal benefits, sexual harassment, constant schedule changes, and an unforgiving attendance system that penalized workers for getting sick.
Refresco had hired a notorious union busting law firm that has a long history of trying to prevent workers from organizing. Workers were not intimidated by the aggressive anti-union campaign, and a majority of the workers voted to unionize. However, Refresco refused to recognize and bargain with the union, contesting the results of the election because the polling site opened five minutes late. Refresco dragged out the process through objections, appeals, and requests for extension. Ten months later in April 2022, the National Labor Relations Board ordered a new election.
Despite two years of union-busting efforts by Refresco, workers voted to join the UE last month by an even greater margin than the first election. Now, workers are looking forward to negotiating a contract that reflects their invaluable contribution to the company.