Walmart warehouse workers strike over inhumane conditions

Workers at a Walmart distribution center in Mira Loma, California walked off the job earlier this week to protest what the workers called inhumane working conditions.

“They treat us like animals,” said one of the striking workers. “They treat us worse than animals.”

“It gets really hot and we heat up really fast,” said another worker. “Sometimes there’ll be no water in the containers.”

Other striking workers said that temperatures in their work area can get as high as 120 degrees. They don’t have a health care plan, don’t get regular breaks, and work with faulty and dangerous equipment that results in frequent injuries. They make about $8 an hour.

The warehouse is operated by NFI, a Walmart contractor. NFI is a national transportation firm. It subcontracts with Warestaff, a temporary staffing company, to provide workers for the warehouse.

About 20 workers are participating in the unfair labor practices strike. They do not belong to a union.

The warehouse is located in the Inland Empire, the Southern California region at the heart of area’s warehouse industry.

Prior to the strike, workers had filed complaints against NFI and Warestaff with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

The complaints charge the two Walmart contractors with unfair labor practices that include lack of access to drinking water, unsafe working conditions, and management intimidation. The labor standards division is conducting an investigation.

According to the workers, management retaliated against those who filed the complaint. “When we spoke out to change terrible working conditions, workers were suspended, demoted and even fired,” said Limber Herrera one of the striking workers. “They spied on us and bullied us, all because we are fighting for dignity.”

The strike began on the eve of an historic 50-mile pilgrimage for warehouse justice that commenced on September 13.

The organizers of the pilgrimage, Warehouse Workers United, held a solidarity rally with the striking workers at their warehouse, and some of the workers joined the pilgrimage. The long march began after the rally and will end six days later in Los Angeles.

Speaking at the rally, Guadalupe Palma, executive director of Warehouse Workers United, a labor center helping warehouse workers fight for better conditions, said that Walmart needed to be held accountable for the conditions inside of the warehouses that store its goods.

“These workers have exhausted all options,” Palma said. “Walmart must stop ignoring warehouse workers and intervene to uphold its own stated ‘Standards for Suppliers’, eliminate inhumane and illegal working conditions, and sit down directly with warehouse workers to hear about their experiences in the warehouses and figure out how to improve working conditions.”

When the pilgrimage ends in Los Angeles, organizers will confront Walmart executives and demand that they meet with workers to hear their grievances.

According to a report by the National Employment Law Project, Walmart exerts pressure on its contractors to keep labor costs low in order to drive down the price that contractors charge Walmart. This mutual race to the bottom results in the conditions that caused the strike.

The strike is not the first time that workers have rebelled against conditions in a Walmart warehouse. Last year, workers at a Walmart warehouse operated by Schneider Logistics filed similar complaints with the state labor standards division and a lawsuit against Schneider and its subcontractors for wage theft.

A court sided with the workers and ordered the companies to pay workers for lost wages. The labor standards division also fined the subcontractors for illegal conditions at the warehouse.

About 85,000 workers work at warehouses located in the Inland Empire. Most work in conditions similar to those of the striking workers. Many work at Walmart warehouses.

“Warehouse workers have made several attempts to reach out to Walmart to tell them about conditions in the warehouse,” Palma said. “These attempts have gone unanswered; they’ve been ignored by Walmart.”

Asked why he was joining the pilgrimage, warehouse worker Alejandro Alvarado said, “We don’t have fans or clean water and we’re sweating all day and when we try to do something about it, we get in trouble.”

Jobs with Justice  has posted this link for those who want to show their support for the striking workers.

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