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United Electrical Workers, Private Equity Stakeholder Project Seek Delisting of PAI Partners from UN Principles for Responsible Investment over Labor, Environmental Violations

The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) and the Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP) sent a letter to the PRI Board of Directors requesting the delisting of PAI Partners after the private equity firm and PRI signatory demonstrated serious violations of the PRI Initiative. 

The PRI is a United Nations-supported network of investors that works to promote sustainable investment through the incorporation of environmental, social and governance factors into investment decision-making. 

The PRI surveyed its signatories regarding accountability to the Initiative’s principles and what to do when “the behaviour of these organisations has the potential to bring the PRI, and by extension the work of the signatory base as a whole, into disrepute.”  Almost three quarters of the surveyed signatories (71 percent) agreed that the PRI should “delist signatories if they act in a manner that brings their publicly stated commitment to responsible investing, or the work of the PRI (and by association, other signatories), into question.” 

UE and PESP provided ample evidence of how PAI Partners and its portfolio company Refresco are in violation of the principles:

Last year, a majority of the almost 250 workers at the Refresco bottling plant in New Jersey voted to join the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America union (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. 

UE and PESP included statements from several Refresco workers to their letter detailing their working conditions.

TheWall Street Journalreported that in the spring of 2020, workers at the New Jersey Refresco plant staged a walkout to protest the unsafe working conditions during the pandemic after a manager berated a worker who was worried about the coronavirus and said he felt ill. 

Refresco hired a notorious union busting law firm that has a long history of trying to prevent workers from organizing. Refresco is refusing to recognize the union and refusing to bargain, even though the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has officially certified the union.

“The working conditions are not sustainable for anyone. The place is full of hazards. Things have to start changing there or we will continue to get hurt on the job, including catching covid,” said Ruben Castro, a forklift driver. “My coworkers and I recently came together to form a union to increase our safety on the job, but Refresco is refusing to acknowledge and respect our union. In fact they’ve been fighting it and throwing up hurdles in an attempt to stall contract negotiations with us.”

The workers’ suffering under low pay, poor benefits, and unfair working conditions has been  needlessly prolonged while they wait for justice through the NLRB. Refresco’s clear and  calculated effort to violate its employees’ rights and deny them collective bargaining is in direct conflict with the socially responsible investment values of the PRI.  

The city of Walla Walla, Washington has cited Refresco for forty violations since 2019, resulting in $440,000 in fines, “for discharging dirty and potentially dangerous wastewater” that frequently contained PCBs in excess of regulatory limits, sometimes as much as 43 times the limit. 

Because of its vast environmental and labor violations, PAI Partners must be delisted from the PRI.

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