Workers at a Walmart warehouse in Elwood, Illinois returned to work after their employer agreed to stop retaliating against workers who filed a wage theft legal action against the company. Their employer, Roadlink Workforce Solutions, also agreed to pay the strikers their wages for the 21 days they were on strike.
“With this victory, we forced the company to respect our rights,” said Ted Ledwa, one of the striking workers. “We showed that when workers are united we can stand up to the biggest corporation in the world and win.”
Roadlink, a temporary staffing company, manages the workforce at Walmart’s Elwood warehouse, the company’s largest distribution center.
One way that Walmart lowers its labor costs is by hiring contractors such as Roadlink to manage its warehouse workers. Roadlink in turn hires temporary workers who have no health care or pension benefits, nor are they eligible for unemployment insurance if they get laid off.
Despite their lack of basic protections, workers at the Elwood warehouse have been trying to make their warehouse a decent place to work with the help of Warehouse Workers for Justice, a workers’ center based in Chicago.
Before the strike, workers had complained to management about unsafe conditions on the job, but management ignored them.
They also complained about the pay system, a piece rate system that determines pay by the amount of cargo that a worker loads or unloads.
If there are too few trailers to load or unload, workers are sent home without pay.
When they work, they sometimes work well more than 40 hours a week, but, according to the strikers, their piece rate sometimes doesn’t amount to the overtime rate required by law. Sometimes the piece rate isn’t enough to meet minimum wage standards.
The lack of minimum wage and overtime pay, led workers to file a wage theft lawsuit against Roadlink.
After the suit was filed, the company raised its level of intimidation and retaliation against workers, especially those who filed the suit. The company’s retaliation led to the workers’ unfair labor practices strike.
When the workers walked off the job, their odds of winning did not look good.
They were united, but their numbers were small, and they were facing off against the world’s biggest employer, Walmart, the power behind Roadlink.
But with the help of Workers for Warehouse Justice, they mounted a solidarity campaign that drew support from across the nation and around the world. More than 100,000 people signed a support letter addressed to Walmart’s corporate management. Supporters also donated money to a strike fund that helped sustain the strikers.
Two weeks into the strike, more than 600 people traveled to Elwood, near Chicago, to demonstrate their solidarity with the workers. Seventeen community supporters, including some clergy and elected officials, staged a solidarity sit-in at the warehouse gates and were arrested for their act of civil disobedience.
Four days after the demonstration and sit-in, the strikers received word that their employer was ready to end the strike, and the workers accepted the offer.
Even though the strikers have returned to work, their fight isn’t over. They plan to join members of OUR Walmart Chicago, an organization of Walmart employees, for a demonstration at a downtown Chicago Walmart.
“While the strike is over, we still have work to do to make the change we want to see including safe conditions, fair pay for all hours work, and an end to discrimination,” read a posting on the Warehouse Workers for Justice Facebook page. “Please join us Wednesday (October 10) in downtown Chicago (Walmart store at 570 W. Monroe) at 10 am.”