At a rally last week at a Walmart distribution center in Southern California, workers charged a Walmart subcontractor with firing them for trying to recover stolen wages and for cooperating with a state investigation of wage theft and unsafe working conditions at the distribution center.
“We’ve been fighting to keep our jobs,” said Eric Reyes, who works at a Walmart distribution center operated by Schneider Logistics in Mira Loma, California. “We’ll keep fighting to keep our jobs because this isn’t right.”
Reyes is one of about 70 workers at the distribution center who recently were told that they would lose their jobs at the end of February. Some of the workers in September filed a federal lawsuit charging Schneider and its staffing company Rogers Premier Warehousing with failure to pay workers the minimum wage and overtime.
They also filed complaints with the California labor commission, which resulted in Rogers being fined $600,000 for among other things not providing their workers with sufficient information on their wage statements so that the workers could calculate whether they received all the wages that they were due.
Rogers provides Schneider with workers to staff the warehouse. The workers, who are classified as temporary workers, receive low wages, which their suits says are sometimes below the minimum wage, no health insurance, no holidays, and no vacations.
They are paid a piece rate rather than an hourly wage. In other words, they are paid by the number of pieces that they load or unload from a truck. If there is no truck to be loaded or unloaded, they must stay at work but don’t get paid. Sometimes, they are at work for as long as 16 hours.
The work itself is dangerous. During the summer, it’s not unusual for temperatures to rise above 100 degrees inside the warehouse. The cargo that they move is sometimes heavy and can be dangerous to move if not handled properly or without proper precautions, but the workers are under constant pressure to speed up their work.
Workers at the warehouse cooperated with investigators from the state labor commission looking into alleged abuses at the warehouse. Some like Reyes and Daniel Lopez faced intimidation and threats from supervisors after they cooperated.
As the new year began, Rogers informed Schneider that it would no longer provide staffing services at the warehouse. Shortly after that, the workers were told that as of February 24, they would no longer have jobs.
“We believe that (Rogers and Schneider) are terminating the workers in retaliation for actions they’ve taken,” said Guadalupe Palma regional director for Warehouse Workers United, a group to which some of the workers belong and which is leading the fight to improve working conditions at unorganized warehouses in Southern California. “And also because they cooperated with the (California) labor commission in their investigation that resulted in the fines against Walmart subcontractors.”
In a related matter, Warehouse Workers United sent a second letter of complaint to Walmart CEO Mike Dunn informing him of the mistreatment of workers by Walmart subcontractors and urging Walmart “to adopt a Responsible Contractor Policy to ensure that its contractors live up to the letter and the spirit of Walmart’s Statement of Ethics.”
The letter describes numerous health and safety problems at Walmart warehouses operated by subcontractors, refers to the wage theft lawsuit filed against Schneider and Rogers, and complains about retaliation against workers who have complained about conditions at the warehouses.
It also says that “warehouse managers have explicitly referred to Walmart as the reason why it would be impossible for the contractors to improve health and safety or wage and hour standards, citing Walmart’s insistence on constantly lowering operating costs, and its strong opposition to unionization amongst its employees.”
Warehouse Workers United is asking people to show their support for the terminated employees by signing a petition online urging Walmart to adopt a Responsible Contractor Policy.
Lawyers for the workers who filed the wage theft suit will ask the judge to order the warehouse operator to stop the planned job terminations.