Warehouse workers in Southern California announced yesterday that next week they will begin a 50-mile pilgrimage to end illegal and inhumane working conditions where they work and to demand that Walmart take responsibility for ending these conditions in warehouses operated by Walmart contractors.
“Temperatures (at the warehouses) top 100 degrees,” said Limber Herrera, a warehouse worker. “Inside the metal containers we unload, it can reach 120 degrees. Our pay is low and injury is common. We face pollutants, inadequate access to clean drinking water, little ventilation, and intense retaliation if we speak up about our working conditions. I have seen workers fired if they are injured on the job.”
Herrera is a member of Warehouse Workers United (WWU), which has been organizing warehouse workers in the Southern California region known as the Inland Empire where warehouses that store goods waiting to be shipped to Walmart and other retailers are concentrated.
The march for warehouse justice will begin Thursday September 13 in Riverside, California, the heart of the Inland Empire warehouse district. Marchers will trek along a 50-mile route traveled by trucks loaded by warehouse workers and headed for Walmart and other retailers in Los Angeles. At the end of their march, workers will confront Walmart and demand that it take responsibility for improving working conditions in its warehouses.
“We want humane working conditions, and we want Walmart to sit down with warehouse workers to hear about our experiences moving Walmart goods,” Herrera said. “Up until now, Walmart has ignored us.”
During the six-day march, workers and their supporters will sleep on church floors and rely on community supporters to feed them. The march is reminiscent of a march nearly 50 years ago by California farmworkers fighting for justice in the fields where they worked and demanding that growers recognize their union.
Walmart doesn’t operate its warehouses in the Inland Valley; instead, it contracts with companies like Schneider Logistics to operate them. Workers at a Schneider Inland Empire warehouse last year sued Schneider and its subcontractors for wage theft. A court found in favor of the workers, who were subsequently fired. The court ruled that the firings were retaliation and thus illegal and ordered the company to reinstate the workers.
Walmart’s said that it was not responsible for the wage theft or the firings, but WWU argues that Walmart puts pressure on its contractors to drive down labor costs, so that the retail giant can keep its prices low. The pressure to lower wages led to the wage theft and the subsequent firings by Schneider.
“Walmart has an outsized influence on Southern California and on most communities in the US,” reads a statement by WWU. “Walmart is the world’s largest private company and its practices indirectly and directly affect the lives of millions of people. It pioneers practices of squeezing workers and contractors that degrade the quality of jobs and because of its size these poor standards become the industry standard.”