On December 12, pent up with frustration, thirty warehouse workers employed by contracted supply chain corporations for Walmart, Inc. walked off the job in Mira Loma, CA citing unfair labor practices and hideous working conditions that were not being addressed by a host of legal filings and complaints workers had taken to Walmart, then to their direct employers, NFI, in hopes that they’d provide relief. Workers claim that management has retaliated brutally. Requests to CalOSHA and the NLRB have gone unanswered so far, but apparently both are investigating complaints.
While not unionized, workers are affiliated with the Warehouse Workers United group in SoCal. Many are immigrants, and most apparently entered the US with H-1B status. Over 85,000 workers are employed by Southern California warehouses. Their September 12 press release included (my bolds throughout):
“When we spoke out to change terrible working conditions, workers were suspended, demoted and even fired. They spied on us and bullied us, all because we are fighting for dignity,” said Limber Herrera, a warehouse worker for four years.
The strike comes one day before workers and their supporters begin a 50-mile, six-day pilgrimage from the warehouses to Downtown Los Angeles.
Workers face inadequate access to clean water, work under scorching heat that reaches well over 100 degrees, and have little access to basic healthcare, regular breaks, and properly functioning equipment. Their wages are low –$8 per hour and $250 a week, or $12,000 per year. Workplace injury is common.
But when workers tried to offer solutions to fix these abuses, they have been met with illegal threats and intimidation by management. Workers are employed by NFI and a temporary labor agency, Warestaff. Both companies are Walmart subcontractors, but the retail giant has ignored repeated attempts by workers to meet and address the inhumane and illegal conditions in its contracted warehouses.”
Within days, thirty warehouse workers walked off their jobs in Elwood, IL, again in frustration at either Walmart or their direct employer Roadlink, or a host of temp agencies that pay far less than even the average $12+ hourly wage the direct-hires pay.
Jane Slaughter at Labor Notes explains the ‘maize of contractors’ employees have had to navigate in order to organize a union with the help of the United Electrical Workers. She put up a sidebar story on the left side about the railroad van drivers in Chicago winning an extra dollar an hour, and some bad news about ‘sweetheart-deal loving’ union replacements for Steelworkers in NJ.
I’d also been wondering if the CTU teachers were actively in solidarity with the warehouse workers in Elwood, and it turns out that 150 red-shirted teachers marched with them in a protest on September 18. The thinking was to tie both strikes together:
“The idea,” said UE organizer Leah Fried, “was to link the disturbing labor practices in Walmart warehouses with the Walmart Family Fund, which has invested $1 billion in efforts to privatize public schools.” The Fund gave $3 million to a group, Stand for Children, that successfully lobbied for an anti-teacher law in Illinois last year.
On October 1, the workers plan a big rally at their warehouse with allies from unions, worker centers, and community groups.”
How can you not love that? Some big corporate bucks went into the effort to smear the teachers *and* corporatize (h/t:kgb999) schools as well.
Another key ingredient has been social gospel support of the workers, again, from their press release:
“ONTARIO, Calif. – With the support of community, clergy and elected leaders including Asm. Norma Torres, warehouse workers launched the WalMarch, a 50-mile, 6-day pilgrimage from Southern California’s Inland Empire to Downtown Los Angeles.”
So strike participation among workers is slowly increasing, and so is picket line help and solidarity from unions, and I hope it all balloons. Walmart need some serious ass-kickin’, and it’s great to see some seeds sprouting.
Holy Crow! I just clicked into the UWW website again, and saw this update; it must just be minutes old:
Striking Warehouse Workers Return to Work:
“ONTARIO, Calif. – Workers at a Southern California warehouse that moves Walmart merchandise returned to work after a 15-day strike that included a six-day, 50-mile pilgrimage for safe jobs.
By midnight Friday morning, workers from all three shifts at the 24-hour facility returned to work after winning safety improvements on the job and drawing a response from Walmart about poor working conditions in its contracted warehouses.
“We no longer feel like we are working in the shadows,” said Carlos Martinez, a warehouse worker who went on strike and participated in the 50-mile WalMarch from the warehouses in the Inland Empire to Downtown Los Angeles. “We’ve never had this much attention on our working conditions and I have never felt this much support. I feel ecstatic going back to work and proud that we have all stood together as a team.
Though Walmart initially dismissed workers concerns about conditions on the job as “unfounded,” by the end of the 6-day march, Walmart spokesperson Dan Fogelman told the Huffington Post it “‘is developing a protocol of random inspections by third-party organizations and “conducting contract reviews with our service providers with an eye towards implementing specific health and safety requirements.’”
So…I’m deleting the Donate to the WWU link, but you can still donate to the Chicago/Elwood strikers here. If you haven’t any money, but have friends in the area, you might ask if they’d like to lend some solidarity to them. We hope Walmart keeps its word. I admit that seems to be an oxymoron, but still.
KCAL put up this coverage of their WalMarch Pilgrimage for Safe Jobs:
(cross-posted at kgblogz.com)
[In a related matter that may or may not be of interest to you: I’d meant to write up some recent commentary published at Counterpunch concerning the ongoing subject of ‘what gains labor gains, or yields to, as a result of strikes’.
I’d written a couple pieces about the ILWU Longshoremen’s strike at the Port of Longview, WA after Robert Dumas had first reported on their initial wildcat strike against the giant multinational, EGT. This diary concerned the Port Shutdown done in concert with the West Coast Occupys, in which Obomba threatened to sic the Coast Guard on them if they interfered with the arriving EGT ships.
An ‘official labor historian name Cal Winslow published this version of events and the contract the ILWU accepted; in it, and another one both published at Counterpunch, he flayed OWS in no uncertain terms. Is version of events were far different than mine, and in fact prompted this piece by longtime Longshoreman Jack Heyman in strong rebuttal: The ILWU Longshore Struggle in Longview and Beyond’.]