(This article was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute. It first appeared on The Nation’s website and is republished with permission.)
The call from the temp agency comes in late October. I’ve passed the drug test, cleared the background check, sat down for a quick interview—“Can you lift fifty-pound boxes?”—and completed a worksheet of basic math problems. Now there’s a job. A warehouse just outside the city of Ontario, about forty miles east of Los Angeles, needs more bodies to meet the holiday crush.
They do work for Walmart, Best Buy, “all sorts of big companies,” says the female voice on the line. Orientation starts at 8:15 am; pay is $9 an hour. “Make sure you’re early.” Before hanging up she repeats the order. “Be early.”
On an overcast Tuesday, I pull into the parking lot,
Breaking News: Warehouse workers who move suitcases are on strike at Walmart luggage and apparel subcontractor Olivet International. The bulk of the Riverside County facility’s inventory is sold by Walmart and the strikers hold the retail chain equally culpable for the poor working conditions employees claim exist at Olivet. The work stoppage is aimed at retaliation allegedly suffered by workers who drew public attention to safety risks at the warehouse.
According to a post by Josh Eidelson that appeared today on the Nation‘s website:
Today’s strike is backed by Warehouse Workers United, a project of the Change to Win union federation. It comes two months after 21 Olivet warehouse employees filed a formal complaint with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, alleging rampant safety violations: emergency exits blocked by boxes and merchandise; forklift brakes, seatbelts, and horns that don’t work;
David Acosta, a leader in the fight to improve warehouse working conditions, is back to work today. David was fired from his job as a forklift driver at a critical Walmart-controlled warehouse in Mira Loma, California at the end of May for allegedly violating a safety policy. David and his coworkers fought back against his unfair dismissal and retaliation by the warehouse operator, Schneider Logistics, for helping expose wrongdoing at the warehouse.
David is a lead plaintiff in a massive federal lawsuit that exposed millions of dollars in stolen wages. The lawsuit, of which Walmart, Schneider and the temporary staffing agencies that employed warehouse workers are defendants, helped end decades-long scheme to defraud workers.
“We know that Walmart is in control and now we will know the extent of their involvement to defraud workers,” Acosta said of the lawsuit.
In October 2011, workers who were jointly employed at the Walmart warehouses by Schneider Logistics,
Yesterday members of Warehouse Workers United and their supporters confronted Scot Rank, the CEO of scandal-plagued Walmart de Mexico, at UCLA’s Anderson School of Business. The warehouse employees are fighting for improved working conditions at warehouse facilities operated by Walmart contractors. This raw video captures the protest.
(Note from Warehouse Workers United: Please take action now — workers like Javier, whose blog appears below, should not be fired with impunity. We will deliver this petition to Walmart today, April 29, 1 p.m., PDT.)
One month ago my son Alex was born. Yesterday I was fired from my job as a forklift driver at a warehouse where we move 100 percent Walmart merchandise.
I am outspoken. I defend my coworkers. I alert management about broken and unsafe equipment. I teach my coworkers about their rights, like what minimum wage is and what they should do when they are injured on the job.
I have been a target of management for a while. They watch everything I do, but it’s not my nature to be silent or scared. I know when I am right. Last year I went on strike to protest the retaliation my coworkers experienced when they spoke to the media and the public about the dirty water (if we had any water at all) that we were given to drink,
We are workers who move Walmart merchandise at a private warehouse in Chino, California. Just a couple of weeks ago the state of California ordered the warehouse owner to repay us more than $1 million in stolen wages. The California Labor Commissioner determined the warehouse operator, Quetico LLC, had shorted our paychecks and those of more than 800 workers.
We are so happy that justice has been served, but we continue to risk our jobs just because we blew the whistle. The company is denying it did anything wrong and appealing the state’s ruling. In the meantime we are worried about retaliation and losing our jobs. We don’t know if we will be fired. Walmart has done nothing.
The California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement issued the citations Monday, Jan. 28 against Quetico, LLC, a large warehouse complex in Chino, California. Back wages and unpaid overtime total more than $1.1million and in addition the state issued about $200,000 in penalties.
“Quetico is strict when it comes to enforcing its rules with workers so it is only fair that the state enforce the laws that the company broke,” said Abraham Guzman, a warehouse worker who has been at Quetico for about two and a half years. “I am satisfied that the law will now be followed and workers have won justice.”
Last year workers brought concerns to the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, an advocacy organization that works with Warehouse Workers United.
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.
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,
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.
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 six-day march,
Workers at a Southern California warehouse that moves Walmart merchandise filed a complaint with Cal/OSHA Monday detailing a high rate of injury associated with unreasonable quotas. They are seeking an immediate investigation of the facility.
The complaint, filed by Warehouse Workers United on behalf of two workers – one of whom is currently on strike to protest retaliation at the warehouse – documents repetitive lifting at extreme rates. These working conditions that have led to back injuries of multiple warehouse workers within the last year at an NFI warehouse in Mira Loma, California dedicated to moving Walmart goods.
According to the complaint filed with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health against employers Walmart, NFI, and staffing agencies Warestaff and Select: “The workers who do this work are required to perform at an extreme rate under the pressure of managers who aggressively pressure workers to meet quotas with threats,
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.
Jose Tejeda, a member of Warehouse Workers United, talks about the “dark side of Walmart” — working 16-hour days without breaks, and at a fast pace lifting hundreds of heavy boxes every hour. When employees started to unite to improve conditions, they suddenly faced retaliation, shortened work days and less pay.