A federal judge on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction barring Walmart subcontractors from firing more than 100 workers at a Southern California Walmart distribution center. Six workers at the Mira Loma, California warehouse last fall filed a class action wage theft lawsuit against Schneider Logistics, the warehouse operator, and Rogers-Premier Warehousing Services, which provides staffing services for Schneider. In January, workers at the warehouse were told that after February 24 they would no longer have jobs.
“We are very encouraged that the federal judge told Schneider they couldn’t kick us to the curb for trying to get the wages that we are owed,” said Jose Tejeda, a warehouse worker and member of Warehouse Workers United. “Hopefully this is the beginning of changing this system Walmart has created of warehouse contractors who abuse workers.”
Bet Tzedek, a Los Angeles public-interest law firm that acted as co-counsel for the plaintiffs, called the judge’s decision “a decisive win” for workers who load and unload Walmart goods in Inland Empire (a region near Los Angeles) warehouses.
US District Judge Christina Snyder said that based on the facts of the case the workers would likely prevail in their attempt to recover wages owed them and that their firing was an act of illegal retaliation. In her 29-page opinion, Judge Snyder said that the mass termination of warehouse workers was set in motion just four days after the workers filed their wage theft lawsuit and nine days after the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement inspected the warehouse, an inspection that subsequently resulted in fines totaling more than $1 million for the Walmart subcontractors.
Schneider had argued that it was not responsible for the alleged wage theft because the employees did not work directly for the company, but instead were temporary workers employed by its staffing agency. The judge, however, ruled that Schneider exercised substantial control of its warehouse workforce and therefore shared responsibility for complying with state and federal wage laws.
The judge found workers’ accounts of Schneider’s reaction to the wage theft lawsuit credible. They said that shortly after the wage theft suit was filed, Schneider management held a meeting at which threats were made to “destroy” and “throw away” those who supported the wage theft suit.
The judge also said that “retaliatory discharges deter workers from vindicating their statutory rights and seeking access to the courts,” and that “if the terminations were allowed to proceed, any replacement workers hired by Schneider or a new contractor would be reluctant to assert their rights.”
“With this injunction, Judge Snyder sent clear notice to these defendants and all retaliating employers that any efforts taken to stamp out lawful recourse to administrative and judicial remedies will not be tolerated,” said Change to Win Special Counsel Janet Herold, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.
Judge Snyder “recognized the truth that all workers well understand – that successful retaliation against workers who assert their rights has a chilling impact on all other workers who will fear that any protest will result in their suffering the same mistreatment,” said Michael Rubin who also represents the workers.
The judge also ruled that current and former workers at Walmart warehouses should be informed that they have a right to be issued lawful wage statements that will help determine whether their employer is complying with federal and state wage laws. The subcontractors will be required to pay for the notice.