More Walmart Warehouse Workers on Strike, Demonstration met with Force
By Erica Smiley
Workers of Walmart's contractor Roadlink have been on strike to protest unfair labor practices since September 15th. The strike was called due to illegal retaliation against a group of workers who tried to bring their concerns to management. Several workers were fired on the spot including a named plaintiff in a wage theft lawsuit against the company filed two days before.
Workers endure extreme temperatures, inhale dust and chemical residue, and lift thousands of boxes weighing up to 250lbs with no support. Workers never know how long the work day will be- sometimes its two hours, sometimes its 16 hours. Injuries are common, as is discrimination against women and illegal retaliation against workers who speak up for better treatment.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user peoplesworld
On Thursday, September 13, workers for Walmart's contractor Roadlink Workforce Solutions filed a lawsuit for non-payment for all hours worked, paying less than the minimum wage and non-payment of overtime worked. Shortly thereafter, intimidation and retaliations against workers escalated.
On Monday, October 10, community leaders joined the striking workers to demonstrate in Elwood against degrading and unsafe conditions. In response, the contractor’s security forces first tried to dampen the action with a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) sound cannon, and later called in area police.
“This is the fight of our lifetime,” said Susan Hurley, director of Chicago Jobs with Justice and one of the 17 individuals arrested during the protest. “If we can’t hold Walmart accountable for the situation in these warehouses, we’re in real trouble.”
The warehouse in Elwood, IL is a key distribution center for Walmart. As the nation's largest importer of goods, Walmart sets the standard for goods distribution. At the Walmart warehouse the vast majority of workers are employed by temporary staffing agencies and rarely earn a living wage or receive benefits. In the last few years, no less than six lawsuits have been filed against Walmart contractors for wage theft.
Walmart has been harshly criticized for the legal violations of its contractors and towards its store associates. In California, contractors at warehouses serving Walmart were fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for violations of workers' rights and a federal judge issued several orders and injunctions in favor of the workers, including an injunction stop the mass firing of workers who had filed the lawsuit. In Illinois, a total of six lawsuits have been filed against contractors operating in the Walmart warehouse for labor violations.
Workers and their allies are calling on Walmart to uphold their "Standards for Suppliers" policy and respond to the workers' demands that:
- Workers receive a living wage and are paid for all hours worked in accordance with the law;
- Workers have consistent, regular work schedules in order to care for their families;
- Workers have a safe workplace with better training and safety equipment;
- There is an immediate end to all intimidation and illegal retaliation against workers for exercising their rights.
Chicago is one of the most important transportation and distribution hubs in the world:
- The only location in the hemisphere where all six Class I railroads meet, Chicago transports half the nation's rail freight.
- Seven interstate highways crisscross the Chicago region. Only two states have more interstate highway miles than Illinois. Chicago is a two-day truck haul from 219 million people, or 42% of the continent.
- Chicago is now the third-largest container port in the world, after Hong Kong and Singapore and the largest inland port in the hemisphere.
- As a result, almost a trillion dollars' worth of goods passes through the Chicago region every year.
And yet workers see a very different picture:
- The majority of warehouse workers are employed by temporary staffing agencies that pay poverty wages.
- 25% depend on government assistance to take care of their families and 37% work more than one job.
- 20% report being injured on the job and 40% report being discriminated against.
- Only 4% of temp workers have health insurance and only 5% have paid sick days.
For more information, visit www.warehouseworker.org/badjobs.