Workers at a Mira Loma, California warehouse owned by Walmart and operated by NFI, a national transportation and logistics corporation, returned to work on September 28 ending a two-week strike.
The workers called off their strike after winning safety improvements and a commitment from Walmart to hire an independent third party to audit working conditions at the retail giant’s warehouses.
Meanwhile in Elwood, Illinois, workers at a Walmart warehouse operated by Roadlink Workforce Solutions remain on strike.
A support rally is planned for today October 1. Supporters including clergy and community supporters from Chicago have said that they will commit acts of civil disobedience to show their support for the strikers.
Workers returning to work in California said that the strike and the solidarity actions that took place during the strike helped them feel like Walmart couldn’t ignore them.
“We no longer feel like we are working in the shadows,” said Carlos Martinez, a striking warehouse worker. “We’ve never had this much attention on our working conditions, and I have never felt this much support. I feel ecstatic going back to work and proud that we have all stood together as a team.”
During the strike Martinez and other strikers participated in a 50-mile, 6-day pilgrimage through Southern California organized by Warehouse Workers United, a Southern California worker center supporting warehouse workers. The pilgrimage was meant to draw attention to working conditions inside Southern California warehouses.
Most warehouse workers are classified as temporary workers, which means that they have no health or retirement benefits, aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance if they get laid off, work for low pay, and are sometimes the victim of wage theft by the their employers.
Moreover, working conditions in these warehouses are unsafe and made worse by constant pressure from Walmart and Walmart contractors to speed up work. One of the ways that Walmart and its contractors speed up work is by setting unreasonable quotas.
“Workers are asked to do the humanly impossible or risk losing their jobs,” said Guadalupe Palma, a director for Warehouse Workers United.
This speed up led Warehouse Workers United to file a complaint against NFI during the strike. The complaint, filed with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration, documents instances of repetitive lifting at extremely high rates that led to injuries of two workers, one of whom is on strike and the other unable to work because of an injury suffered on the job.
“I am young and I was healthy until the pace inside the warehouse wore me out and used me up,” said Jose Gonzalez, whose medical records pertaining to his back injury are part of the complaint. “Now it is tough for me to walk and stand.”
In Illinois, warehouse workers are facing the same conditions. Like their counterparts in California they are temporary workers working in unsafe conditions, and they face retaliation when they speak up for better working conditions.
Some of the workers filed a lawsuit against Roadlink charging the company with wage theft. Shortly after the suit was filed, management retaliated against the workers, which led to the unfair labor practices strike that began on September 15.
In addition to wage theft and retaliation, Elwood warehouse workers face unsafe working conditions. They lift thousands of boxes, some weighing 250 pounds with no support, and they work in harsh conditions. Temperatures are very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. And that’s not all.
“The trailers are filled with dust; they’re filled with pesticides,” said one of the strikers as he walked the picket.
Female workers face the extra burden of sexism on the job. “It’s hard for women,” said one female Elwood striker. “There’s not that many women (working in the warehouse), but we’re definitely in there. Sexual harassment, sexual assault are definitely very prevalent.”
The Illinois strikers have been encouraged by the show of support that they’ve. For example, a group of supporters in South Korea gathered signatures on a petition demanding justice for Walmart warehouse workers on strike in the US and presented it to South Korean Walmart management.
On October 1, a caravan of buses and cars will leave Chicago and travel to Elwood where a solidarity demonstrations at the Walmart warehouse will take place.
“The crowd will march to the shipping entrance of the massive warehouse and a group of clergy and community leaders plan to block the road preventing goods from coming in or leaving the warehouse,” reads a Warehouse Workers for Justice press release. “They are prepared to take arrest in support of the strikers demands.”