Warehouse workers score huge victory; systemic abuses still persist

Warehouse Workers United recently announced that workers at a Walmart distribution center in Southern California won a “huge victory” against the warehouse operator and its staffing agencies.

“After weeks of legal wrangling and uncertainty. . . , Schneider Logistics agreed to comply with the court’s order and keep workers on a full-time basis converting them to hourly pay,” said Gloria Palma of Warehouse Workers United. Palma also said that the workers would be eligible for benefits and that this victory “will have national implications for workers’ rights.”

Last fall, workers at a Walmart distribution center in Mira Loma, California, located near Los Angeles in a region called the Inland Empire, sued Schneider, which operates the distribution center, and its staffing subcontractors charging them with wage theft. The suit alleged that the Walmart contractors paid workers on a piece-rate system instead of an hourly wage and that because of the piece-rate system, worker pay sometimes was below the minimum wage. Workers also did not receive overtime pay.

In January, Schneider told warehouse workers who filed the wage-theft suit and others that by the end of February, they would no longer have jobs.

The workers and Warehouse Workers United went to court alleging that the firings were retaliation for the wage theft suits. A judge agreed and ordered Schneider to retain the fired workers. Subsequently, Schneider said that it would convert the workers’ pay rate to an hourly wage.

In a related development, Lilly Fowler of Fair Warning, writes that the abuses at Walmart’s Mira Loma warehouse are widespread and systemic throughout the Inland Empire. She reports that a crew leader at the Mira Loma warehouse said that he was told to falsify pay records to make it appear that piece-rate wages were equal to or above the minimum wage.

Warehouse workers in Chicago would likely agree that the abuses described by Fowler aren’t limited to the Inland Empire. Workers at a Walmart distribution near Chicago operated by Schneider Logistics also filed wage theft charges against Schneider and two of its staffing subcontractors Eclipse Advantage and Midwest Temp Corporation.

Like their counterparts in California, the Chicago workers were paid on a piece rate system rather than an hourly wage. Their suit alleges that their pay sometimes was below the minimum wage and that they did not receive overtime pay. Like the California workers, the Chicago workers were fired after filing their suit.

“The unjust firings occurred on December 29,” said a statement by Warehouse Workers for Justice, which is helping warehouse workers in the Chicago area to organize. “On that day, after they worked a full shift at the massive Walmart warehouse in Elwood, Illinois, 65 workers were informed they would lose their jobs immediately. After the workers had sued to recover stolen wages, Walmart’s warehouse operator Schneider Logistics cancelled the contract with Eclipse Staffing, the temp agency that directly employed the workers.”

Since then, they’ve been fighting to get back their jobs. Two weeks ago they were joined by community activists from several Chicago neighborhood groups at a rally to demand that Walmart adhere to its labor policies regarding its contractors and force the contractors to return the fired workers to their jobs.

“Walmart says in its policies (that) their contractors and suppliers must ‘compensate workers with wages, overtime premiums and benefits that meet or exceed legal standards,'” said Leticia Rodriguez, a former worker at the Walmart Elwood warehouse. “Yet when we sued Eclipse for wage theft, we were fired. We want Walmart to keep their word and make this right.”

“Now that Walmart has moved into our neighborhood, we must demand they follow their own ethical standards policies,” said Elce Redmon of the South Austin Coalition and Chicago Neighborhoods First. “If Walmart wants to be part of Chicago, then Walmart must ensure workers are paid what they are owed and that no retaliation takes place.”

So far, Walmart has not taken any action to reinstate the workers.

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