By Anthony J. Machcinski
The daily routines of Schuyler Ave. residents in Kearny were a thrown a bit off course on June 14 by the sound of loud chants of “Boycott Reynolds,” from nearly 100 protesters carrying signs complaining about conditions in their former workplace.
The protest was organized by former employees of the Pactiv food service/food packaging plant, on O’Brien Ave. off of Belleville Turnpike. The workers, let go in July 2011, allege they were laid off after they spoke out against injustices in the factory, including mandatory overtime and the inability to take sick days. As a result of the layoffs, workers said, nearly 60% of the packing department was cut, with the remaining 40% forced to make up the workload.
Speaking through an interpreter, former Pactiv worker Jenny Reyes proclaimed: “We were not human beings in this factory; we were slaves.”
“Today, almost all of us who were fired have come here,” said Huang Wanzhen, a former Pactiv employee who spent six years in the factory. She also spoke through an interpreter. “Not only do we represent all the workers who were fired, but we also represent the workers who are still in the factory.”
The protest is part of the “Ain’t I a Woman?!” campaign, a national outreach program led by female workers to demand that those benefiting from sweatshop labor are brought to justice.
The June 14 protest was the beginning of an attempted national boycott of Reynolds, the parent company of Pactiv, who bought the factory as part of a $4.6 billion acquisition in November 2010.
According to a press release from the campaign, Reynolds Group “refused to rehire the workers, despite the abundant overtime forced on their current employees.”
“(June 14) was a public launching,” said Sarah Ahn, a public relations coordinator for the campaign. “Now in the future, we will focus on getting out there and letting people know about the boycott.”
Ahn said that future rallies are not planned, but added that, “If we feel the demonstration is a good way then that’s how we would go.”
As of press time, company officials at the Pactiv plant could not be reached for comment.
Along with the boycott of Reynolds products, which include Hefty garbage bags, came a petition signed by the former workers of the factory that stated that the workers wanted their jobs back and a more respectful employment environment.
“We want the right to return to work with better working conditions,” Reyes said.