“Ain’t I a Woman” campaign comes to Costco

July 30, 2014 Editorial Staff
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Female former workers of a plastic container factory owned by Pactiv Corporation, a subsidiary of Reynolds Group Holdings, rallied outside of Costco on Saturday, July 26 to demand that the big box retailer stop selling Reynolds’ sweatshop products as a part of the “Ain’t I Woman?” campaign.

According to the protesters, who came with their families and concerned residents, in 2010, workers from Pactiv Corp’s packing department – which is located in Kearney, New Jersey – decided to organize and demand better conditions after one worker passed out from exhaustion due to extreme heat and lack of water.

Eventually, the protesters said, the company launched a retaliation campaign and in 2011, laid off 60 percent of the packing department for leading or supporting the efforts to improve working conditions, which led to a double workload and 84-hour work week for the remaining workers.

Mei Rong, a former worker whose three to four-day work week turned into overtime every day, said, “I worked two to three machines, and then when they fired the others, I started working five machines. My body started to deteriorate. I told [the manager] my body was not doing well. My back is hurting. I got really tired and was still forced to do overtime.”

Rong told this newspaper that, after she was laid off, she had to have immediate surgery, resulting in a metal plate inserted in her back. “Even now, I cannot walk, I can’t walk properly. I still feel pain,” she added.

Workers, along with the Chinese Staff & Workers Association, held a demonstration in front of the factory in 2012. It was the first time that they demanded an end to the mandatory overtime and reinstatement of workers who were laid off.

The workers and supporters are calling for Costco, one of Pactiv’s biggest buyers, to comply with its own Supplier Code of Conduct, which states that its supplies should not force mandatory overtime.

Workers and supporters are boycotting Pactiv and its parent company, Reynolds, until they meet the workers’ demands: the right to take bathroom breaks; the right to sick days and parental leave; the right to speak out and organize without retaliation; reinstatement with back pay for those terminated; the right to a 40-hour work week and no mandatory overtime.

By press time, Costco had not responded to a request for comment. Attempts to reach Pactiv/Reynolds by press time were unsuccessful.

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