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Workers Who Make Gatorade, Tropicana Are Unionizing

During the pandemic, workers at Refresco were told to keep working and drink Gatorade if they got Covid.

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Video produced and edited by Jordan Zakarin and Ian McKenna

Hundreds of mostly immigrant workers who make Tropicana & Gatorade are voting to unionize Thursday and Friday. During the pandemic, workers at a Refresco plant that makes Pepsi drinks were told to keep working and drink Gatorade if they got Covid. In response to these egregious safety protocols workers voted to unionize last year, but Refresco forced a revote because a voting center opened five minutes late.

Below is a full transcript of the video:

Cesar Moreira, Refresco Worker: We make Bodyarmor and Arizona. We make Tropicana and Gatorade.

Anthony Sanchez, Refresco Worker: We started organizing because we had had enough of the despotic attitudes of our supervisors and the management.

Workers at bottling giant Refresco won their union election last year. Refresco abused the legal process to get it overturned.

John Ocampo: Why? Why does the employer have so many opportunities to file appeals and to object and to delay here?

Sanchez: A lot of my colleagues felt defrauded, believing there was some corruption and that Refresco, with all their money, was able to buy this decision.

Workers at the Refresco bottling plant in Wharton, New Jersey, started organizing in February 2020, citing low pay, poor benefits, and unsafe working conditions.

Licinia Ochoa, Refresco Worker: It took me 21 years to make it to $18 and change an hour.

Sanchez: The health insurance that we get through Refresco is not very good. The deductibles are high, the co-pays are high, and the coverage is awful. And so I was forced to turn to the health care exchange to get a better policy.

Moreira: We want change, a change that really benefits the working class, which is something that has been totally forgotten about here at Refresco.

Sanchez: We shouldn’t have to rely on overtime to survive, we should be fighting for a just wage.

Workers say the COVID-19 pandemic only made their conditions worse.

Ocampo: Because the company used for them an opportunity, the pandemic, to institute 12-hour shifts which they had wanted to do for a while.

Moreira: The effects of a 12-hour shift are really draining.

Diana Acevedo, Refresco Worker: One of my co-workers had gone to management to ask them to stop production so that they could disinfect and so we could have better safety protocols concerning our health. And the manager just said no and told us we were “essential.”

Refresco Management: I don’t know what else to tell you, the Homeland Security and the CDC has told us that they want us to stay open and the first thing they tell you to do if you get a fever is let it break and they suggest you drink Gatorade.

Acevedo: And that’s how we all started getting sick.

After workers filed for a union election, Refresco subjected them to 6 weeks of anti-union lectures.

Sanchez: [Unionbusters with Cruz & Associates] came to give classes about what a union is.

Acevedo: We saw them everywhere—it was like harassment, that whole time, just an anti-union campaign.

Sanchez: They would talk about the negative aspects—according to them—of unions, saying things like, “The union’s not gonna be able to accomplish anything,” or, “The company doesn’t have to actually give what the union says they’re negotiating for in the contract.”

Captive Audience Meeting Audio: If the union wins the election, the salaries, benefits, and conditions of work will freeze and stay that way, why? Because they have to negotiate new terms, and changing things doesn’t benefit the union.

Despite the onslaught of unionbusting, workers voted in favor of a union in June 2021.

Ocampo: Since then, the company has spent nine, ten months filing bogus appeals, making frivolous allegations as to why they lost the election.

Refresco challenged the results and demanded a new election from the NLRB.

Ocampo: At no point has Refresco alleged union misconduct. They alleged that the National Labor Relations Board agent who was conducting the election opened the voting center up at 6:05 a.m. one day instead of at 6 a.m. when the polls should have opened.

Moreira: And they’re trying to argue that in 5 minutes, 23 people could have voted—an absurd claim. There’s no place in the world where 23 people can vote in 5 minutes.

The NLRB ruled in Refresco’s favor, and workers will vote in a second election on May 19 & 20.

Ochoa: I truly felt defrauded.

Ocampo: There are 40 new workers here in a bargaining unit of 237 people, roughly, people have left. You know, a lot of this works to the company’s advantage.

Sanchez: And they’re still attacking the union wherever they can.

Acevedo: Our cafeteria is covered in anti-union propaganda, the TVs are displaying anti-union messaging, so we’re bombarded with this anti-union messaging—false information, of course.

Workers say they’re ready to win again.

Ochoa: There’s a bunch of folks that voted no the first time that now want to vote yes. They’re so excited and can’t wait for the election to come.

Sanchez: I want us to be victorious over Refresco because it would be a huge slap in the face to them.

Ochoa: And this way, other Refresco plants can organize and form their unions. Refresco can’t imagine what a blow we’re about to land on them.

Acevedo: We know that we won fair and square last time, and we’re gonna win again.

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