Arrests Made in Walmart-Contracted Warehouse Strike

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November 16, 2012 in Labor & Economy

Six community members sat down Thursday in the middle of a major Riverside thoroughfare in front of the Walmart-contracted warehouse where workers are on strike.

The supporters were arrested by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department while chanting “Si se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”)

If you were all here in support of warehouse workers alone it would be a noble cause, but this isn’t just for warehouse workers. Your efforts benefit all working people,” the Reverend Eugene Boutilier told the crowd shortly before he was arrested.

Workers—who do not have a recognized union—went on strike Wednesday, Nov. 14, to call for an end to retaliation and unfair labor practices.

We are standing up for ourselves to create a safe work environment, but we are continuously punished for it,” said Javier Rodriguez, a warehouse worker. “We decided to strike again because we are tired of being singled out and denied work, demoted and even fired.”

Warehouse workers first went on strike in September to protest unfair labor practices. They then embarked on a 50-mile “WalMarch” from Southern California’s Inland Empire to Downtown Los Angeles to call for improved safety conditions at the warehouse.

The September actions sparked a chain reaction leading to warehouse worker strikes in Illinois and Walmart store worker strikes in dozens of locations. Working conditions have also started to improve.

Because workers have spoken out about inhumane working conditions, the warehouse company is now scrambling to rent fans, add water coolers and fix broken equipment,” said Guadalupe Palma, a campaign director with Warehouse Workers United, an organization committed to improving warehousing jobs in Southern California’s Inland Empire. “It’s no good to acknowledge that workers’ concerns about safety are legitimate while retaliating against the whistleblowers who stood up to bring the concerns to light.”

The striking warehouse workers in California are employed by a New Jersey-based company called NFI and a temporary labor agency, Warestaff. All the merchandise that flows through the facility is destined for Walmart stores. As the largest retailer in the world, Walmart dictates the standards of operation in the logistics and distribution industry.

Workers load and unload goods at a warehouse operated by NFI industries in Mira Loma, California. In November, NFI has been frantically installing new ramps, a heavy metal panel that connects shipping containers to the warehouse for loading and unloading, water coolers, fans and fixing other equipment.

In September Walmart spokesman Dan Fogelman told news outlets: “Based on our conversation with our providers and visits to many of the facilities, we believe the complaints are either unfounded or, if legitimate, have been addressed.”

Clearly Walmart’s statement that workers’ claims were false was actually false,” said Guadalupe Palma. “Walmart must intervene to uphold its own stated “Standards for Suppliers” in order to eliminate inhumane and illegal working conditions. Workers must be involved in the process to ensure that the standards are upheld in the future.” The National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating numerous federal charges filed by the warehouse workers.

More than 85,000 workers labor in warehouses in Southern California, unloading merchandise from shipping containers that enter through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and loading it onto trucks destined for retail stores like Walmart.

The Southern California strike comes at the same time as two significant developments with Walmart contractors in Illinois and Pennsylvania.

This week, warehouse workers in Illinois filed additional federal charges against four employers that operate Walmart’s largest distribution center located in Elwood, Illinois. The contractors, Schneider Logistics, Roadlink Workforce Solutions, Select Remedy and Skyward Employment Service,  are all charged with violations similar to those in California – including illegal threats, intimidation and discipline against workers organizing to improve working conditions. 

We work hard and deserve to be paid fairly, have a safe workplace and be treated with dignity as human beings,” said Illinois Walmart warehouse worker Phil Bailey. “If Walmart thinks we will be silenced by this illegal retaliation, they are wrong.”

Wednesday the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) announced an agreement with warehouse operator Exel Logistics and the Department of Labor that will provide new worker protections in Exel’s more than 300 U.S. warehouses.

Exel, which has $4.1 billion in annual revenue, operates warehouses for major U.S. retailers including Walmart and Hershey’s. The DOL agreement came in response to a strike and legal complaints by the NGA over serious labor abuses in a Hershey’s Chocolate packing plant in summer 2011.

The Department of Labor is forcing Exel to take direct responsibility for tens of thousands of workers currently trapped under layers of subcontracting and hidden behind misclassification schemes,” said NGA executive director Saket Soni. “Companies like Walmart and Exel have to be held responsible for transforming good, permanent jobs into subcontracted, dangerous, subminimum-wage jobs.”

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