A California state agency has cited two Walmart contractors for worker safety violations at a warehouse where the retail giant’s goods are stored and shipped. The citations, which could cost the contractors $60,000, were the result of an investigation triggered by safety complaints filed in July by warehouse workers.
The same workers who filed the safety complaints subsequently went on two unfair labor practices strikes, one in September and another in November, to protest their employers’ retaliation against workers who spoke out about safety and other work related problems at the warehouse located in Mira Loma in Southern California.
The safety investigation and subsequent citations were the work of the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The citations were levied against NFI, a nationwide logistics company that operates the Mira Loma warehouse, and Warestaff, the staffing agency that supplies the warehouse’s permatemps (workers classified as temporary workers but who stay on the job for long stretches of time).
“California OSHA has determined in its investigation that safety conditions at the Walmart-contracted warehouse are not safe or legal,” said Guadalupe Palma, a campaign director for Warehouse Workers United, a worker center helping California warehouse workers organize and fight for respect on the job. “This vindicates the workers who were punished when they raised concerns.”
According to Cal OSHA, four of the safety violations were serious.
One said that traffic paths in the warehouse were poorly marked and obstructed with boxes and pallets “which posed a clear hazard to employees (on foot) of being struck by forklifts and electric pallets.” The poorly marked and blocked traffic paths also made access to emergency exits more difficult to locate.
A second citation said that the employer did not ensure that workers, working close to forklifts and electric pallets, had access to safety shoes exposing their feet and toes to serious crushing injuries. The citation requires the employer to provide workers with steel-toed shoes.
The third citation said that the employer did not fix broken dock plates, the area where workers walk between trailers and the warehouse while loading and unloading trailers, creating a “hazard to employees as they moved merchandise across the dock plates.”
The final serious citation said that workers weren’t properly trained in the prevention of heat illnesses even though they often worked in trailers where temperatures rose to as high as 105 degrees.
NFI was fined a total of $27,830 and Warestaff $29,140. Both said that they would appeal the fines.
A year ago, NFI and another permatemp staffing agency, Tri-State Staffing, were fined $250,000 for safety violations at another warehouse that NFI operates for Walmart in Chino, California.
After the Mira Loma workers went on strike in September, Walmart said that it would step up its safety audits of contractors like NFI and Warestaff. After an audit of the Mira Loma warehouse, a Walmart spokesman said that the safety problems at the warehouse had been addressed. In another statement made a few days later, the spokesperson said that conditions at the Mira Loma warehouse were consistent with conditions found at warehouses directly operated by Walmart.
Warehouse Workers United in a statement about the Cal OSHA citations said that “working conditions inside the Walmart-contracted warehouse do not meet the company’s own Standards for Suppliers, which detail standards for jobs in its supply chain including safety, compliance with all laws, freedom of association and decent wages.”