Readers of Monday’s New York Times may be forgiven for thinking an article by James Dao was about a new insult to America’s military veterans. After all, Dao reported that soon all vets separated from active duty within the past year, without dishonorable discharges, might be facing an even harsher existence than military life – as Walmart employees. Study after study has shown the retail behemoth to be a cutthroat employer of last resort, most of whose business innovations seem to involve new ways to save the corporation money by slashing employee hours and benefits.
Somehow, though, that didn’t figure much into the Times story. Instead, we read about a patriotic company with plans to hire 100,000 service men and women – essentially any American vet who needs a job. The recruitment begins Memorial Day, no less. According to the Times:
A federal judge Thursday ordered Walmart to be included in a lawsuit filed by warehouse workers embroiled in a labor dispute with employers contracted by the retail giant. In downtown Los Angeles, United States District Court Judge Christina A. Snyder denied Walmart’s request to be excluded from the case (Carrillo v. Schneider Logistics, Inc.), which began litigation in October, 2011. At that time, several warehouse employees in Mira Loma filed suit against Schneider Logistics, Inc., Premier Warehousing Ventures, Rogers-Premier Unloading Services and Impact Logistics, Inc. for alleged violations of federal and state labor laws.
Walmart had argued that the plaintiffs had waited too long before seeking to include Walmart as a defendant. This delay, Walmart claimed, placed the company in the unfair position of having little time to catch up with discovery evidence and to prepare for an anticipated plaintiff class-action motion later this month. The Bentonville, Arkansas corporation also argued against inclusion in the suit because Walmart is not the warehouse workers’ employer.
The Wall Street Journal (in a pay-walled feature) reported online last night that Walmart will begin to monitor conditions at warehouses operated by subcontractors.
The policy change represents a concession to employees at those facilities, who have claimed they are subjected to harsh and unsafe working conditions, along with unfair labor and wage practices. Locally, warehouses in the Inland Empire have been the target of strikes and other protests by workers.
WSJ reporter Shelly Banjo wrote:
“[T]he Bentonville, Ark., giant is developing an auditing system, similar to the one it uses to monitor overseas factories in places such as China and Bangladesh, to help ensure that the domestic parts of its supply chain are complying with safety and labor rules . . . State labor officials and activists called Walmart’s plan to monitor warehouses insufficient, saying that a fire at a Bangladesh garment factory that killed 112 workers last month underscored the shortcomings of such auditing systems.”
Although the warehouse workers are not currently represented by unions,
Bangladesh is half a world away from Bentonville, the Arkansas city where Walmart is headquartered. This week, Walmart surely wishes it were farther away than that.
Over the weekend, a horrific fire swept through a Bangladesh clothing factory, killing more than 100 workers, many of whose bodies were burnt so badly that they could not be identified. In its gruesome particulars — locked doors, no emergency exits, workers leaping to their deaths — the blaze seems a ghastly centennial reenactment of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, when 146 workers similarly jumped to their deaths or were incinerated after they found the exit doors were locked.
The signal difference between the two fires is location. The Triangle building was located directly off New York’s Washington Square. Thousands watched the appalling spectacle of young workers leaping to the sidewalks 10 stories down;
So the day of action at Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has passed at least for the time being. And it turned out to be much larger than the company’s executives in Bentonville had predicted or care to admit.
Thousands of Walmart workers and their allies protested for better wages, affordable healthcare benefits, full-time jobs and an end to management retaliation for speaking out in at least 100 cities, including in Dallas and Lancaster, Texas, Miami and Kenosha, Wisconsin, and several other locations not know for their activism. Although the final tally will not be clear for some time, “open-source” actions of some kind took place at Walmart stores in 46 different states across the nation, with major demonstrations in California, Washington, New York and Massachusetts.
Before Black Friday, the company’s management insisted that the “so called protests” involved a handful of associates at a handful of stores, supplemented by non-Walmart employees,
As Black Friday approached, I couldn’t help but remember a vivid scene in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver where an entire Congo village is overrun by a swarm of ants, creating a human stampede, a living wall of death. The only thing that saves one of the missionary’s daughters are two words of advice that would serve any Walmart shopper well – “elbows out.”
This year, Walmart’s Black Friday customers had to contend with a new challenge: striking workers and their community supporters, who staged actions at stores across the country. Judging by the breadth and intensity of the protests, Walmart diehards had better get used to facing picket lines, and not just on the busiest shopping day of the year.
The origins of the “Black Friday” label are contentious, with commercial interests arguing that it lies in the accounting term of being profitable,
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,
These pages are filled with stories of bad corporate actors — companies that attempt to boost profits by cutting labor costs at the expense of safe and ethical work environments. It’s a pleasure, then, to report on a multinational company’s CEO who is trying to make a difference.
Karl-Johan Persson, the CEO of H&M, recently traveled to Bangladesh, a country from which the fashion giant sources tons of textiles, to meet with Prime Minister Sheik Hasina and ask that textile workers be paid a fair wage.
The visit was pure activism as H&M does not actually own any Bangladeshi factories, it simply sources from the country. The argument Persson used with the PM is strikingly similar to that used by U.S. living wage advocates: A higher wage will be good for the country, not just workers.
Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire reports on the strategy behind the visit:
In addition to working with suppliers to increase wages,
Just three days after the first Walmart employee strike in history, Walmart issued an internal memo entitled Response to Walkout/Work Stoppage that surprisingly cautions against any but the most gentle treatment toward strikers. The document, meant for the eyes of salaried employees only and dated October 8, was leaked by the Huffington Post yesterday.
The strikes began at the Pico Rivera store in California on October 5 and had spread to 28 stores by October 9. The internal memo sets forth a new policy of non-interference and adherence to the National Labor Relations Act, affirming the right of employees to strike. It specifically states:
Do not discipline associates for walking off the job… (Emphasis in original document).
Dan Schlademan, Director of Making Change at Walmart, spoke to the Huffington Post on the unusual document: “I’ve been doing this work for 20 years,
Following national strikes at Walmart stores and at warehouses in Southern California and Illinois, workers who move Walmart merchandise at those sites have just arrived in Arkansas to call for an end to a new wave of retaliation against employees at Walmart-controlled warehouses. The dozen-plus warehouse workers have come to Bentonville during Walmart’s annual “Stakeholder Summit.”
They plan to draw a stark contrast between the image Walmart projects and the reality that hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers throughout its supply chain face intense retaliation whenever they speak out about poor working conditions.
The workers will hold a media conference later this morning, after which they will deliver a petition signed by more than 150,000 people nationally to Walmart’s home office.
“Walmart cannot have it both ways,” said Guadalupe Palma, a director for Warehouse Workers United, a group committed to improving warehousing jobs.
On the heels of growing Walmart unrest that began on Thursday, October 4 at the Pico Rivera Walmart in Southern Los Angeles, the first-ever strike in Walmart’s history, activists gathered at Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Walmart is holding its annual financial analyst meeting. As roughly 200 striking Walmart associates and community supporters rallied in Bentonville in the name of changing Walmart labor practices, an agreement was reached via OUR Walmart for an action aimed at Black Friday, the most anticipated shopping day of the year for consumers and retailers and the kick-off to the holiday shopping season.
On Wednesday morning, a tele-conference with striking Walmart workers and community supporters was staged to announce new calls for change at Walmart. At the helm was Daniel Schlademan, Director at Making Change at Walmart, who emphasized the push towards Black Friday. He was echoed on the call by Evelyn Cruz (Pico Rivera Walmart employee),
By the last mile through the grid in Downtown Los Angeles, the long, hot stretches of dusty San Bernardino County were a distant memory for 50 warehouse workers and supporters who marched 50 miles in six days from the Inland Empire to the city center.
Walking through the summer heat, warehouse workers who move Walmart merchandise took their protest for better working conditions out of the shadows in Riverside and San Bernardino counties and into LA. On the final day of the WalMarch, weary marchers, who slept on church floors and dined on the good graces of supporters, were met by hundreds of supporters on the steps of LA City Hall.
“We became a family along the way,” said David Fancote.
After several appeals to Walmart and its contractors to end retaliation and fix poor working conditions at one warehouse dedicated to moving Walmart goods in Mira Loma,
Many of you have been following LAANE and its partners’ effort to protect Chinatown from Walmart, which is pursuing a strategy to get into urban areas across the country including Boston, New York, Washington, DC and Chicago. Over the last six months, thousands of people in L.A. have marched against Walmart, community groups have appealed their building permits and a moratorium on large chain stores in Chinatown is pending. Across the nation, Walmart workers have organized creative actions against Bentonville shareholders and community groups have launched rallies and even flash mobs to hold the retailer accountable.
Yet many here in L.A. fear it is not enough to stop Walmart. After all, Walmart was able to get its building permits issued by a department known for moving slower than a glacier less than 24 hours before a looming moratorium. And why did they need those expedited permits—was it really that urgent to begin construction on a Walmart store in a space that had been vacant for 20 years?
Workers at a major Walmart-contracted warehouse in Riverside County went on strike Wednesday morning. They are protesting what they say are unfair labor practices that they have faced on the job after months of working in hot temperatures this summer.
The employees—who do not have a recognized union—walked off their jobs during the first shift at an NFI warehouse in Mira Loma, calling, according to a statement, “for an end to retaliation and unfair labor practices.”
“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 warehouse to Downtown Los Angeles.
Workers face inadequate access to clean water, work under scorching heat that reaches well above 100 degrees,
Warehouse workers will embark Thursday, September 13, on a 50-mile protest march. Warehouse Workers United says the objective is “to urge Walmart to eliminate illegal and inhumane working conditions in its contracted warehouses in Southern California.”
The pilgrimage will take workers from Riverside to Los Angeles. Along the way they’ll be sleeping on church floors and relying on community organizations for support and meals.
The marchers will be joined daily by supporters and elected officials. Here is the march’s route map. Follow it on social media using the hashtag #WalMarch.
For hundreds of warehouse workers like Daniel Lopez of Riverside, working in unsafe conditions for up to 16 hours a day, for months at a time, is not uncommon. Asking for safe and clean working conditions or a reasonable work schedule could mean losing his job. (Watch Daniel’s video, above, about his experience in the warehouse.)
Last week, Daniel and I, along with other workers, went to Sacramento to urge the California Senate to pass AB 1855. They did, and if signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, AB 1855, sponsored by Assembly member Norma Torres and Senator Juan Vargas, will extend basic protections to tens of thousands of warehouse workers.
Fly-by-night contractors dominate the warehousing industry and provide a buffer between retailers like Walmart and the workers who move their goods. We have seen it many times; staffing agencies that supply workers in warehouses disappear overnight and leave workers without a job and without a paycheck.
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, when Senators Chris Dodd and Barney Frank drew up the landmark regulatory bill that bears their names. One of its lesser-known provisions required U.S. companies to list the inclusion of any “conflict minerals,” mined in or near the violence-plagued Democratic Republic of the Congo, that comprise their brand-name products. The thinking was that this would help cut off funding for the armed groups ravaging that unfortunate country.
But that was way back in 2010, when the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was signed into law. With touching innocence, the act entrusted the Securities Exchange Commission to establish the enforcement mechanism for this part of the legislation. This week, retail giant Walmart, along with arch-competitor Target and some other companies, got a free pass from Section 1502 of the law. The news, carried by the Wall Street Journal,
Hundreds of millions of tons of goods enter the United States every year through our nation’s busiest ports in Long Beach and Los Angeles. Containers are then trucked through the Los Angeles basin to the Inland Empire, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, where roughly 85,000 warehouse workers, mostly Latino, unpack and reload items onto trucks destined for retail outlets.
The explosion of “domestic outsourcing,” the aggressive practice of contracting warehousing, transportation and goods delivery to a complex hierarchy of contractors and subcontractors, has lowered the quality of jobs in Southern California and disproportionately impacted working Latinos here, many of whom move goods for Walmart and other giant retailers at these subcontracted warehouses.
That’s why Warehouse Workers United [has] launched a new Web series: “Voices/Voces from the Warehouse,” which features real workers in Walmart-contracted warehouses recounting their personal experiences and stories from the warehouse where they work.
In the first episode,
(The following post first appeared on Salon. Author Josh Eidelson discusses Girshriela Green, who was fired after speaking out against bad working conditions at Walmart during the massive June 30 march and rally held in L.A.’s Chinatown. The Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy stands with OUR Walmart workers and actively encourages all members to call Walmart’s VP of Public Relations TODAY at 479-277-9350 to demand justice for Girshriela and her fellow workers and to reinstate her.)
As Wal-Mart celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer, it has faced a new wave of resistance from its “associates” — the company’s corporate-speak for employees. Last month, a delegation of Wal-Mart workers brought their grievances to the company’s shareholder meeting, including low wages and understaffing. In interviews yesterday, three workers at the forefront of the campaign told Salon the company has punished them for their activism. Critics say that the world’s largest private sector employer is playing dirty once again.