The world's largest beverage bottler has been fined $49,724 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for "serious violations" that could endanger employees at their plant in Wharton.
Employees of the Refresco bottling factory and community groups rallied outside the facility on Nov. 15 to demand better working conditions and recognition of their union. A week later, OSHA began a series of inspections at the plant that continued through last week.
An OSHA citation and notification dated May 19 lists four "serious violations" including wet walking surfaces on four occasions, employee exposure to continuous noise levels at 217% of the permissible action level exposure limit, failing to document the basis for determining that all hazards in a permit space had been eliminated, and failure to certify that propane-powered forklift and electric pallet jack operators had been trained and evaluated.
Refresco claims to be the world’s largest independent bottler for retailers and branded beverage companies in Europe and North America, producing more than 30 million liters of drinks per day. It employs about 4,000 workers in 31 facilities, 26 located in the United States,
Workers at Refresco in Wharton bottle and ship beverages such as BodyArmor Sports Drink for Coca-Cola, Gatorade by Pepsi, Juice Bowl, Arizona Iced Tea and Tropicana juices.
A majority of the 250 workers there voted in June to join the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America union. The majority Latino workforce cited unsafe working conditions, treatment by supervisors, low wages and long hours as reasons for starting the union.
Morristown facility: In war and peace, these armories in New Jersey are civic treasures
"Refresco is committed to the health and safety of its employees," a Refresco spokesperson stated. "As part of these efforts, the company continues its cooperation with OSHA. Refresco welcomes this opportunity to further review and enhance workplace health and safety at its Wharton facility."
In 2015, OSHA cited the plant for eight serious violations, including two "willful violations" for not providing hearing tests for workers exposed to prolonged noise.
The company has until June 13 to abate the current violations and June 19 to pay the fines, or risk incurring additional penalties, interest and administrative costs.
At the November rally, Anthony Sanchez, a machine operator at Refresco for the last 15 years, said employees were "working in unsafe conditions, with low salaries."
"It's been four months since we had our union election," Sanchez said. "Refresco ran an aggressive anti-union campaign to intimidate and try to silence us and now is refusing to negotiate with our union.”
William Westhoven is a local reporter for DailyRecord.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on Morristown Daily Record: Refresco fined by OSHA for 'serious' violations at Wharton NJ plant