Walmart contractors cited for safety violations–again

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.”

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Walmart labor unrest grows

Walmart faces more labor unrest as dozens of workers at its warehouse in Mira Loma, California walked of the job on Wednesday, November 14.

The walkout comes just eight days before Walmart associates in stores across the US plan to strike against company retaliation against associates who speak up for better working conditions on Black Friday, November 23 .

Workers at the Mira Loma warehouse are employed by Walmart contractors NFI, which operates the warehouse, and Warestaff, a temporary staffing agency

In September, workers at the warehouse went on strike to protest unfair labor practices. They returned to work when Walmart agreed to take action to enforce its “Standards for Suppliers,” a guide for what Walmart considers ethical and humane treatment of its contractors’ workforce.

But since their return to work, the warehouse workers have faced many of the same conditions that led to the strike: lack of safety on the job, extreme heat in the warehouse, lack of access to drinking water, and faulty and unsafe equipment.

These conditions led several workers to speak out and demand decent treatment. Their employers responded by cutting their hours, demoting some, and firing others.

“I was fired for trying to make where I work safe,” said David Garcia. “It has been tough. My kids need food, school supplies, and an apartment to sleep in at night, but right now it is difficult to provide them these basic things.”

According to Warehouse Workers United, a worker center supporting the strikers and other warehouse workers in Southern California, Walmart should take responsibility for its contractors’ actions and ensure that workers at its warehouses work under humane conditions.

“Walmart must intervene to uphold its own stated ‘Standards for Suppliers’ and involve workers in order to eliminate inhumane and illegal working conditions,” said Guadalupe Palma, a director of Warehouse Workers United.

The warehouse workers did not say how long they planned to stay on strike. In addition to the strikes in Southern California, workers at Walmart’s largest warehouse in Elwood, Illinois went strike in September and returned to work 21 days later with back pay for the time they were on strike. They continue to fight for better conditions and respect on the job.

Last month, about 160 Walmart workers across the US participated in nationwide strikes against the company, the first strikes by company employees in Walmart’s 50-year history.

Meanwhile, members of OUR Walmart, a nationwide organization of Walmart associates, plan to strike Walmart on Black Friday. They will be joined by community supporters who are organizing non-violent direct actions against Walmart on the same day.

Members of OUR have been speaking out on the job for better pay, affordable health care, more working hours, and respect from their employer.

In return, some have had their hours cut or been demoted. “Walmart has intimidated, threatened, and otherwise retaliated against associates for having the moral courage to see issues within our workplace and to organize for constructive change,” reads a message about the strike on OUR’s website.

Walmart associates recently received more bad news about their company’s health care plan. Managers told workers that their health care plan premium would increase by 36 percent next year, making it the third year in a row for double digit premium increases.

“Last year, my monthly premiums went up 33 percent, and this year it’s going up another 25 percent,” said Dan Hindman, an associate at the Pasadena, California Walmart. ” I can barely afford Walmart health care right now. But I don’t want to lose coverage for my son and me.”

OUR is urging Walmart associates to sign a pledge on its website not to work on Black Friday. “Together, we can show Walmart that we truly are the family they claim to be through peaceful protest!” reads a message on the OUR website.  “Let’s embolden and empower each other, stand side-by-side and peaceably stand our ground, in the name of respect for ourselves and each other!”

One Walmart warehouse strike ends; solidarity rally planned for the other

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.

Warehouse Workers for Justice, a Chicago worker center supporting the strikers, has also set up a strike fund to help strikers support their families during the strike.

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.”

Walmart warehouse workers strike over inhumane conditions

Workers at a Walmart distribution center in Mira Loma, California walked off the job earlier this week to protest what the workers called inhumane working conditions.

“They treat us like animals,” said one of the striking workers. “They treat us worse than animals.”

“It gets really hot and we heat up really fast,” said another worker. “Sometimes there’ll be no water in the containers.”

Other striking workers said that temperatures in their work area can get as high as 120 degrees. They don’t have a health care plan, don’t get regular breaks, and work with faulty and dangerous equipment that results in frequent injuries. They make about $8 an hour.

The warehouse is operated by NFI, a Walmart contractor. NFI is a national transportation firm. It subcontracts with Warestaff, a temporary staffing company, to provide workers for the warehouse.

About 20 workers are participating in the unfair labor practices strike. They do not belong to a union.

The warehouse is located in the Inland Empire, the Southern California region at the heart of area’s warehouse industry.

Prior to the strike, workers had filed complaints against NFI and Warestaff with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement.

The complaints charge the two Walmart contractors with unfair labor practices that include lack of access to drinking water, unsafe working conditions, and management intimidation. The labor standards division is conducting an investigation.

According to the workers, management retaliated against those who filed the complaint. “When we spoke out to change terrible working conditions, workers were suspended, demoted and even fired,” said Limber Herrera one of the striking workers. “They spied on us and bullied us, all because we are fighting for dignity.”

The strike began on the eve of an historic 50-mile pilgrimage for warehouse justice that commenced on September 13.

The organizers of the pilgrimage, Warehouse Workers United, held a solidarity rally with the striking workers at their warehouse, and some of the workers joined the pilgrimage. The long march began after the rally and will end six days later in Los Angeles.

Speaking at the rally, Guadalupe Palma, executive director of Warehouse Workers United, a labor center helping warehouse workers fight for better conditions, said that Walmart needed to be held accountable for the conditions inside of the warehouses that store its goods.

“These workers have exhausted all options,” Palma said. “Walmart must stop ignoring warehouse workers and intervene to uphold its own stated ‘Standards for Suppliers’, eliminate inhumane and illegal working conditions, and sit down directly with warehouse workers to hear about their experiences in the warehouses and figure out how to improve working conditions.”

When the pilgrimage ends in Los Angeles, organizers will confront Walmart executives and demand that they meet with workers to hear their grievances.

According to a report by the National Employment Law Project, Walmart exerts pressure on its contractors to keep labor costs low in order to drive down the price that contractors charge Walmart. This mutual race to the bottom results in the conditions that caused the strike.

The strike is not the first time that workers have rebelled against conditions in a Walmart warehouse. Last year, workers at a Walmart warehouse operated by Schneider Logistics filed similar complaints with the state labor standards division and a lawsuit against Schneider and its subcontractors for wage theft.

A court sided with the workers and ordered the companies to pay workers for lost wages. The labor standards division also fined the subcontractors for illegal conditions at the warehouse.

About 85,000 workers work at warehouses located in the Inland Empire. Most work in conditions similar to those of the striking workers. Many work at Walmart warehouses.

“Warehouse workers have made several attempts to reach out to Walmart to tell them about conditions in the warehouse,” Palma said. “These attempts have gone unanswered; they’ve been ignored by Walmart.”

Asked why he was joining the pilgrimage, warehouse worker Alejandro Alvarado said, “We don’t have fans or clean water and we’re sweating all day and when we try to do something about it, we get in trouble.”

Jobs with Justice  has posted this link for those who want to show their support for the striking workers.

Warehouse workers to march for justice

Warehouse workers in Southern California announced yesterday that next week they will begin a 50-mile pilgrimage to end illegal and inhumane working conditions where they work and to demand that Walmart take responsibility for ending these conditions in warehouses operated by Walmart contractors.

“Temperatures (at the warehouses) top 100 degrees,” said Limber Herrera, a warehouse worker. “Inside the metal containers we unload, it can reach 120 degrees. Our pay is low and injury is common. We face pollutants, inadequate access to clean drinking water, little ventilation, and intense retaliation if we speak up about our working conditions. I have seen workers fired if they are injured on the job.”

Herrera is a member of Warehouse Workers United (WWU), which has been organizing warehouse workers in the Southern California region known as the Inland Empire where warehouses that store goods waiting to be shipped to Walmart and other retailers are concentrated.

The march for warehouse justice will begin Thursday September 13 in Riverside, California, the heart of the Inland Empire warehouse district. Marchers will trek along a 50-mile route traveled by trucks loaded by warehouse workers and headed for Walmart and other retailers in Los Angeles. At the end of their march, workers will confront Walmart and demand that it take responsibility for improving working conditions in its warehouses.

“We want humane working conditions, and we want Walmart to sit down with warehouse workers to hear about our experiences moving Walmart goods,” Herrera said. “Up until now, Walmart has ignored us.”

 During the six-day march, workers and their supporters will sleep on church floors and rely on community supporters to feed them. The march is reminiscent of a march nearly 50 years ago by California farmworkers fighting for justice in the fields where they worked and demanding that growers recognize their union.

Walmart doesn’t operate its warehouses in the Inland Valley; instead, it contracts with companies like Schneider Logistics to operate them. Workers at a Schneider Inland Empire warehouse last year sued Schneider and its subcontractors for wage theft. A court found in favor of the workers, who were subsequently fired. The court ruled that the firings were retaliation and thus illegal and ordered the company to reinstate the workers.

Walmart’s said that it was not responsible for the wage theft or the firings, but WWU argues that Walmart puts pressure on its contractors to drive down labor costs, so that the retail giant can keep its prices low. The pressure to lower wages led to the wage theft and the subsequent firings by Schneider.

“Walmart has an outsized influence on Southern California and on most communities in the US,” reads a statement by WWU. “Walmart is the world’s largest private company and its practices indirectly and directly affect the lives of millions of people. It pioneers practices of squeezing workers and contractors that degrade the quality of jobs and because of its size these poor standards become the industry standard.”